Seafarers who deliver necessity products such as gas, food and medicine are being forced to keep working due to COVID-19. Namely, many seafarers cannot leave their ship.
As the New York Times report, last month an oil tanker docked in China, and was unable to disembark its crew sot they can fly home.
Instead, they kept working at least until Singapore. When they arrived there, the country had banned all crew changes, forcing the ship to go to Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where crew members are forbidden from leaving, as well.
It is estimated 150,000 crew members with expired work contracts have been forced into continued labor aboard commercial ships \to meet the demands of governments that have closed their borders.
Namely, many countries insist on keeping global shipping lines open while keeping seafarers out. This has led maritime organizations to urge governments to exempt crew members from travel bans, but without success
Speaking about the situation, Frank Coles, chief executive officer of the Wallem Group, stated that many seafareres basically ‘‘do a prison term even though they haven’t been convicted”.
However, attempts to resolve this problem have been reported. Specifically, the European Commission allowed crew changes on continental ports and let seafarers return home. Nevertheless, even if seafarers disembark, it is is possible they will not be able to return home as most international air traffic is grounded.
What is more, one of the biggest shipping companies, Maersk, has suspended crew changes on its container vessels for a month, in order to maintain operations “as normal as possible.”
The International Transport Workers’ Federation for its side, mentioned that it can not object to the mandatory extensions in the face of national laws closing borders.
Currently, some contracts include provisions for automatic one-month extensions. However, for a number of seafarers, those terms have expired.