A new report by CNA, a US-based nonprofit organization, is looking at ways industries and governments have mitigated the spread of COVID-19 through the blue economy, while at the same time “jeopardizing the material and emotional wellbeing of seafarers“.
The policy paper, ‘Adrift: COVID-19 and the Safety of Seafarers‘, is based on CNA analysis and recommends solutions for seafarers.
Direct health risks to mariners
- Confined spaces, interaction with non-crew members, and interpersonal contact in port put seafarers in these industries at particular risk of COVID-19 exposure.
- The size and diversity of the global commercial fishing industry makes industry-wide COVID-19 protocols difficult to enforce. Fishing vessels combine dense inhabitation, close quarters, and limited medical care, which means the virus can quickly spread among crew. In one instance, 92 seafarers—nearly three-quarters of the crew—aboard a two-level processing trawler tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home.
- Consolidation in offshore energy eases mitigation implementation. Despite crews operating on small platforms and in close quarters, the offshore energy industry has held COVID-19 at bay with strict screening before rotation. Wealthy, high-capacity energy actors in locales such as the United Kingdom, Alaska’s North Slope, and Brazil have minimized cases. Failure to enforce policies introduces risk, however. In June, Nigeria had to evacuate the offshore Bonga oil field because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
- Military and government vessels can keep sailors safe, though with mental health effects. Navies, particularly large ones like the US Navy, have maintained operations by screening crew and limiting contact with non-crew. Government research vessel operations, meanwhile, have significantly curtailed operations.
Overall, governments have demonstrated the benefits of consolidation and control over crew behavior, but with potentially deleterious consequences for mental health and sailor retention due to long isolated deployments.
5. The cruise industry faces a unique challenge. By mid-May 2020, more than 100,000 cruise line employees were still at sea as companies faced a global patchwork of restrictions limiting crews’ freedom of movement. In the effort to repatriate workers, some crewmembers reported missed paychecks, at least two committed suicide, and several staged hunger protests to demand faster return home.
- Designate mariners as essential workers. The largest flag states, port states, states of seafarers, and the IMO should collectively designate mariners in the commercial shipping, fishing, and public safety sectors (at a minimum) as essential workers. Wealthy maritime nations—US, UK, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy, Norway, and Singapore—can coordinate action.
- Implement nationality-blind crew relief policies. Such policies should exempt mariners from general national travel restrictions. If expanded to include transportation and tourism crews, such policies would help reduce nationality-based disembarkation discrimination. Given the limited global cooperation on COVID-19 response, nationality-blind crew relief protocols represent an incremental goal for states that could lead to larger confidence building measures.
- Establish a consolidated information-sharing portal on health guidelines. Mariners often lack transparent access to current municipal and state health guidelines. The IMO should collaborate with national members, aid and relief nongovernmental organizations, and seafarer unions to develop a one-stop portal that national and local officials can continuously update to provide relevant health and visitation information to mariners.
The IMO should prioritize the participation of major crew exchange locations to maximize the portal’s utility in the current environment.
- Identify opportunities to implement long-term industry safeguards. Some recommendations related to the immediate crisis—including nationality-blind crew relief and essential worker designations—should be lasting. Implementers should design relief measures with a long-term perspective so that mariners will not be forgotten in future crises. They should also continue to identify other sector-level long-term structural changes.
- Financially safeguard vulnerable seafarers. Mariners of all ages and across all industries often are not paid if they are not at sea. Junior mariners are likely the least capable of absorbing financial shocks. Abandonment by vessel owners who have run out of funds is endemic in the industry. The IMO, national members, and major seafarer unions should collaborate to endow emergency funds to soften external shocks via financial or in-kind assistance to mariners.
Explore more herebelow: