“The shipping industry and governments need to take better care of our ships’ crews, and today we are adding our voice to the call for immediate action,” stated Juan Carlos Croston, president of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA), in his welcome address to the most recent webinar jointly hosted by the Caribbean Shipping Association and the Women in Maritime Caribbean (WiMAC) last Tuesday.
Recalling his years as a seafarer, the CSA president said that the human element is the most important asset in global shipping and that the webinar is one way of drawing attention to the plight of seafarers in the current pandemic.
‘The human element in shipping – essential links in a multi-dynamic system’ was the topic for discussion at the second webinar in the series on the theme: ‘Caribbean Shipping Post COVID-19: A roadmap to recovery and sustainability’. Over 100 participants from the Caribbean and beyond participated on the Zoom platform to listen to presentations by industry experts and share their ideas on short-, medium- and long-term solutions.
A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
Claudia Grant, deputy director general of the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ) and immediate past president of WiMAC, was the moderator for the session. She said that “the spotlight is now shining on seafarers who once operated in the background”. In outlining the current scenario, she said “the world is witnessing the unfolding of a humanitarian crisis with 300,000 seafarers at sea, some for as long as 16 months even though the maximum period, set by the Maritime Labour Convention, for any crew member at sea is 11 months”. She introduced the first speaker, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, president of the World Maritime University (WMU), to give more information on the multidimensional aspects of this issue.
Dr Doumbia-Henry stressed “the need to implement laws for the protection of, and accountability for, the human element”, with particular reference to seafarers. She said that although most states have signed on to the international conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) concerning the labour rights of seafarers, including their rights to safe transfer and repatriation, many of those states have not promulgated local laws that are in keeping with the conventions.
“Despite the globalisation of trade, countries seem to be holding on to old concepts of individual state sovereignty, instead of moving forward to align local legislation with international agreements,” Dr Doumbia-Henry declared. She said that despite the fact that shipping accounts for more than 80 per cent of world trade and that without seafarers, most of the essential products, medicines and equipment would not be able to get to countries, governments have been tardy in enacting legislation and accompanying regulations to ensure that the labour rights of ship crews are protected.
The WMU president said that in the current pandemic, the legal status of seafarers’ rights must be an urgent priority as “there are now tens of thousands of these key workers who need to be transferred from ships, with clear access to safe transit and repatriation to their homes”. She explained that many countries have closed their borders, and restricted movement on and off their ports, thereby denying access both for crews who need to transit and transfer for repatriation and for crews who need to board vessels for duty.
Dr Doumbia-Henry told participants that the WMU’s ‘Day of the Seafarer’ campaign calls on member states to recognise seafarers as “key workers” – and to provide them with support, assistance and travel options during the pandemic. The World Maritime University’s mother institution, the International Maritime Organization, recognises “the invaluable contribution that seafarers make to international trade and the world economy, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families”. The ILO has joined the IMO in recognising that “seafarers should be officially recognised as key workers, and be granted exemptions from any travel restrictions and special considerations so as to enable them to join and leave their ships and return home without impediment, while complying with good practice in infection control”.
Helen Buni of the Technical Cooperation Division in the IMO, which is the focal point for Women in Maritime, the IMO programme on diversity and gender, drew attention to the fact that “COVID response and recovery requires a multi-agency, multidisciplinary and whole-of-government approach”. She referred to the IMO Circular Letter No. 4204 Addenda 1 to 26 that outlines measures for health and preventive actions; facilitation of trade; extension of seafarers certificates; port state control; repatriation of seafarers/crew change; and government cooperation.
Buni said that in response to the stressful conditions being experienced by seafarers awaiting repatriation, the IMO has been actively involved in helping these persons aboard vessels to cope with their situation. She said that “helpful advice is being offered on how to help stressed colleagues, keeping team morale up, and staying focused on personal well-being”.
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