With 384 sailings cancelled, the first half of 2020 could see a 25% reduction in shipping, with a 10% annual fall in 2020, BBC has recently reported.

In addition to potentially reduced employment opportunities, seafarers face:

  • considerable problems joining and leaving their ships in port (each month around 100,000 seafarers are involved in crew changes);
  • restrictions on travel, and quarantine restrictions for international seafarers, even after medical screening;
  • the prohibition, or at least delays, in being allowed to return home;
  • restrictions on being able to go ashore for medical treatment;
  • restrictions on the delivery to ships of essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions, including in cases where ships are refused entry into ports;
  • lack of access to masks, overalls and other personal protective equipment (PPE), often due to restrictions on deliveries;
  • the extension of tours of duty beyond the duration specified in employment agreements or national laws, leading to fatigue;
  • problems in undertaking training or refresher courses for certification of competency;
  • expiration of competency and medical certificates, which are of limited duration;
  • increased stress, isolation and social pressures for seafarers and their families; and
  • restrictions on access to port-based welfare services.

Meanwhile, fishers and fishing vessel owners face similar problems, including the inability to make crew changes, the expiry of medical and competency certificates, the lack of the necessary PPE, restrictions on joining and leaving vessels and on travel, insufficient medical care on board vessels and lack of access to shoreside medical care. The extended periods on board add further to the physical and fatiguing nature of their work.

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How the ILO deals with COVID-19

Following formal requests for intervention from the ITF, the ILO has reminded member States of their responsibilities under the MLC, 2006, including in relation to PPE, medical care onboard and access to medical care ashore.

In a statement on the COVID-19, the Officers of the STC draw attention to the severe circumstances created by the virus for the shipping industry and seafarers, calling for seafarers to be officially recognized as key workers, granted exemptions from travel restrictions and accorded special consideration, so that they can join and leave their ships and return home without impediment, while complying with good practice in infection control.

In response to requests from constituents, and following consultations with the Officers of the STC, the Office issued an Information note on maritime labour issues and COVID-19, which provides guidance on addressing the complexities of the current crisis in light of the MLC.

At the launch of the statement by the STC Officers, the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, called on governments “to ensure that, in these challenging times, seafarers are adequately protected from the COVID-19 pandemic, have access to medical care, and can travel to and from their ships, as necessary, in order to continue to play their crucial role”.

In addition, the ILO/IMO database on reported incidents of abandonment of seafarers has been updated to request those reporting cases to indicate in the report form whether a case is deemed to be related to COVID-19.

The Office is also examining the pandemic in the context of the application of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188).

The Office will continue to shape its response in consultation with the tripartite constituents and in close cooperation with other United Nations specialized agencies.


How other UN agencies deal with COVID-19

Firstly, the IMO is facilitating the exchange of information among Member States on its COVID-19 website.

Moreover, in April, the IMO Council:

  • urged flag and port States to ensure the smooth operation of maritime traffic and the availability of shipping services for world commerce, for the benefit of humanity;
  • further urged flag and port States to ensure the welfare of seafarers, in particular the preservation of their right to wages, shore leave, sick leave, access to medical assistance, food supplies and repatriation;
  • endorsed a practical and pragmatic approach to repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers;
  • encouraged Member States and international organizations to take into consideration the guidance concerning unforeseen delays in the delivery of ships; and;
  • further encouraged governments to share best practices in keeping workers in the maritime transport sector safe from COVID-19, while taking into account national circumstances.

To remind, the IMO and WHO have issued a Joint statement IMO-WHO on the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The ILO, IMO and WHO have issued a joint statement on COVID-19 and shipping, with emphasis on medical care for seafarers and the extension of the validity of seafarers’ medical certificates and of ship sanitation certificates.


Explore work of individual organizations herebelow:

ILO Sectoral Brief

Did you know?

Under its efforts to keep seafarers motivated and inspired amid this difficult situation,  IMO's gender programme has launched a photo search to build its bank of images of women in maritime. The move came as IMO believes the media have a great potential to promote gender equality by portraying women and men in a non-stereotypical, diverse and balanced manner. See more here.