The dangers facing seafarers came to the forefront in recent days primarily due to the number of Russian and Ukrainian seafarers but today four United Nations Agencies joined together to again highlight the need for nations to take steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of seafarers. Two years after the crew change crisis first gained attention during the pandemic, the UN agencies call for the scaling up of efforts to limit the impact of Omicron and broad welfare issues.

In a joint statement, the International Labour Organization, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the World Health Organization reiterated their calls to governments, national and local authorities, and other relevant stakeholders to continue and increase actions for the welfare of seafarers. The UN agencies listed ten critical actions to address evolving challenges to international shipping and its key workers.

While the number of seafarers that remain stranded has decreased it remains considerable. The agencies called for common and proactive approaches to address evolving challenges to international shipping and its key workers, minimize adverse impacts on seafarers and their families, as well as on global trade, supply chains, and sustainable development while continuing to protect local communities. While the focus is on COVID-19 and Omicron, however, many of the issues they are highlighting are broader welfare and safety concerns for everyone working at sea.

Some of the key issues remain among the basic. The agencies cited the need to ensure seafarers can access medical care and medical evacuation if needed. They continued to talk of the need to provide public health certificates and ensure consistent application of internationally agreed protocols and standards while avoiding punitive measures, fines, and excessive costs imposed on seafarers and their employers.

The most basic of the agencies list of elements remains granting seafarers “key worker” designation. They point out that it would remove barriers to crew change and safe movement across borders while recognizing relevant documentation for this purpose.

Some of the elements are specific to the pandemic, including prioritizing seafarer vaccination in national COVID-19 vaccination program and exempting crew from overly burdensome regulations by ensuring that proof of vaccination is the only mandatory condition for entry, following WHO recommendations.  They are also still calling for access to COVID-19 tests and appropriate PPE as well as ensuring they are receiving the latest medical information and guidance to ensure their safety. 

Finally, the four agencies are calling for broad efforts working to keep seafarers safe. They note that this is critical to limiting disruptions to supply chains, while specific virus prevention and stopping the spread among seafarers will play a vital role in stopping the global spread and prolonging the pandemic and its wide-ranging socioeconomic consequences.

Source: The Maritime Executive