The ITF and its affiliated unions have actively supported the return of tens of thousands of seafarers in all categories from catering, hospitality staff, and entertainers to deck and engine crew, who were left stranded aboard cruise vessels across the globe as COVID-19 struck and governments shut their borders.

Dave Heindel, Chair of the Seafarers’ Section of the ITF, says the pandemic has shown the best and worst of humanity.

We have nothing but respect and admiration for the seafarers. These are people who simply went to work and found themselves trapped aboard what some seafarers came to call their ‘floating prisons’, unable to come ashore even for a walk. We thank these seafarers for their patience and fortitude through an incredibly difficult time

Commenting on the repatriation of the seafarers, Mr. Heindel said that while this is a fantastic result in the cruise industry, there remain around 300,000 seafarers trapped working over their contracts aboard cargo vessels, some as much as 16 months, well over their 8-9 months as expected. To solve this problem, governments have to make practical exemptions to restrictions on seafarers’ travel and transit so that we can see a return to functional crew changes.

In addition, Johan Øyen, who is Chair of the ITF’s Cruise Ship Task Force, says the combined efforts represent a major humanitarian success.

This success has occurred despite governments, including flag and port states, failing to live up to their legal and human rights obligations under international law. Not only was it morally wrong for states to refuse seafarers the ability to come ashore in order to get home, it was also illegal. We will be looking at what kind of enforcement mechanisms are required to prevent states from shirking their responsibilities in the future

Mr. Øyen says the ITF is concerned at reports that a number of COVID outbreaks have occurred on cruise ships in recent days, although at least one of these outbreaks is believed only to have happened due to important procedures not being been followed prior to the voyage.

Cruising should only happen again when adequate health and safety measures are in place and are followed, and commitments are made from cruise location countries that they will allow seafarers shore leave and ashore for medical assistance and crew change as required. Cruise lines need to learn from the mistakes many of them made early in this pandemic to ensure safe work environments for seafarers