UN must persuade governments to adopt crew change protocols or risk ‘humanitarian disaster’

In a joint letter to António Guterres, the leaders of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), urged the Secretary-General to ensure governments were adopting the 12-step set of protocols issued by the UN’s own maritime regulator, the International Maritime Organization.

The letter explains that “There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue.”

“Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”

The letter highlights the responsibility of governments to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, in which states have a duty to protect human rights that are ‘built on the fundamental obligation of governments to protect rights-holders, which applies both under normal circumstances and at times of crisis.”

While there has been engagement from some national governments, taking positive steps such as by designating seafarers essential workers. This provides a blueprint for other nations on what steps can be taken to resolve this issue.

As thousands of seafarers face exhaustion at the helm of critical supply routes, the clock is ticking for governments.

The industry had previously agreed with workers’ representatives to two contract extensions beyond the usual regulated period for time onboard due to Covid-19, the leaders say this is “not a sustainable solution”.

“Time is running out. We ask action be taken immediately, ahead of 16 June 2020 - the final agreed deadline to implement crew changes for our seafarers.”

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