The shipping industry has urged governments to keep maritime trade moving by continuing to allow commercial ships access to ports and by facilitating the movement and changeover of ships’ crews. This was said in an open letter sent to all major United Nations agencies.

The letter states: ‘In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving. In particular, this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.’

The letter was sent on behalf of the International Chamber Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The first represents the world’s national shipowners’ associations and over eighty per cent of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage. The latter speaks on behalf of approximately two million seafarers who work on internationally-trading commercial ships.

Crew changeovers

Every month, around 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from the ships they operate to comply with international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare, but several countries have limited or completely forbidden seafarers to come ashore. According to media reports, China and Australia have ordered entire ships to be quarantined for 14 days, causing significant delays and hampering global trade.

As a result, major shipping companies like Maersk and DFDS have decided to postpone all crew changes for now, but considering that the Covid-19 crisis could last for months, this is not a sustainable solution.

Key workers

Around ninety per cent of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components. This shows merchant seafarers are especially needed during this crisis.

That is why the ITF and ICS urge that seafarers are granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships.

‘In view of their vital role during the global pandemic, we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international “key workers”, such as airline crew and medical personnel. As such, they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships.’