UNCTAD published a new policy brief focusing on strengthening international response and cooperation to address the seafarer crisis and keep global supply chains open during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
he ΙΜΟ, based on industry analysis, estimates that the number of seafarers requiring repatriation after completing contracts declined from a high of around 400,000 in September 2020 to around 200,000 in March 2021, with a similar number waiting to join ships.
However, this number could rise again says UNCTAD. In fact, in July 2021, ICS estimated that the number of seafarers remaining on board beyond the expiration dates of contracts remained at around 250,000.
In addition, since accessible data on the number of seafarers impacted by the crew change crisis is limited, signatories to the Neptune Declaration have developed a crew change indicator based on aggregated data from 10 leading ship managers, covering about 90,000 seafarers on board ships.
Following the significant deterioration of the situation since May 2021, indicators since August 2021 have pointed to stabilization and the start of an alleviation.
According to data from the indicator from December 2021, the number of seafarers on board vessels beyond the expiration dates of their contracts decreased from 7.1% in November to 4.7% in December; and the number of seafarers on board for over 11 months fell to 0.7%.
However, travel restrictions, strict crew change requirements and flight cancellations continue to prevent seafarers from returning home; the Omicron variant is likely to pose new challenges.
The data also show that the vaccination of seafarers is progressing. Programmes are being established, in particular in the US and some countries in Europe, to offer vaccines to international seafarers.
The vaccination rate of seafarers, according to data from the crew change indicator, rose from 41% in November 2021 to 49.5% in December 2021.
In comparison, the fully vaccinated share of the population in most developed countries is close to or above 60%.
One of the main difficulties is related to the fact that the leading maritime crew nations continue to have low vaccination rates and seafarers continue to have limited access to vaccines
Recommendations for priority areas of action
According to UNCTAD, governments, international organizations and other public and private stakeholders should continue to cooperate to protect seafarer rights; implement relevant standards, including those in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006; and, in particular, alleviate the crew change crisis resulting from the pandemic.
Such support should be part of the broader progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth.
Beyond protecting the rights and welfare of seafarers and their families, such actions would also help support the economies of the home countries of seafarers; maintain world trade; and ensure the flow of goods along supply chains.
Taking the above into consideration, the brief notes that urgent action is needed in the following important areas:
- Vaccinations: Concerted collaborative efforts by Governments, industry and international organizations should ensure that seafarers are designated as key workers and are provided vaccinations as a matter of priority
- Crew changes: Governments and industry should continue to work together, including through the Neptune Declaration initiative, and in collaboration with relevant international organizations, to facilitate crew changes, in accordance with international standards and in line with public health considerations; and should also ensure the availability of and access to related seafarer data
- Route deviations: Charterers and other industry stakeholders should be flexible in accepting requests from shipping companies for route deviations to facilitate crew changes and should refrain from using no-crew change clauses in charterparty contracts.
- International legal framework: States and other relevant stakeholders should,in consultations and meetings on seafarer issues at the International Labour Organization and the International Maritime Organization, keep the relevant legal framework under review; and ensure that international obligations are respected and implemented
- Maritime single windows: Port community systems should implement the single window concept, similar to the customs-centric single window powered by the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) of UNCTAD, to cover all information and formalities resulting from the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended, and other relevant instruments
- Information exchanges: Relevant public and private sector stakeholders should continue to regularly exchange views and best practices on seafarer situations and needs, as well as lessons learned, including during the pandemic, and promote further harmonization and standardization
- Outbreaks and emergencies at sea: In line with evolving scientific insights, Governments and other stakeholders should regularly update specific guidance on measures to prevent and deal with COVID-19 and other outbreaks of disease at sea and ensure that mechanisms are in place to reduce and effectively respond to medical emergencies at sea.