National governments can no longer hide behind a declaration of ‘force majeure’ in order to mask failures in their pandemic response according to maritime professionals’ trade union, Nautilus International.
Nautilus is calling on flag states to return to the proper implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and allow crew changes and repatriation to take place before a marine disaster occurs because of overstretched and exhausted crews.
The international shipping industry has warned of a threat to global trade and vessel safety with up to 400,000 crew stranded either at sea or on shore by travel restrictions brought on by Covid-19.
In the absence of action from national governments, unions and shipowner representatives have worked together to create detailed protocols on protection, safe travel, air and port corridors, financial resources, accommodation and the secure identity of seafarers. Protocols which, having been endorsed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), make the ‘force majeure’ arguments for contract extensions redundant.
General secretary of Nautilus International, Mark Dickinson, said: “The reaction to COVID-19 from governments worldwide saw measures introduced to prevent the disease spreading that failed to appreciate the crucial role that the shipping industry and our seafarers play in the global economy.
“Countries closed their borders, airlines were grounded, embassies closed their consular services, ports limited their services and port and flag state control officials were unable to validate or check ships’ certificates or the working and living conditions of seafarers.
“Seafarers’ mental wellbeing is being stretched to breaking point, as several recent tragic events have grimly illustrated, and they are unable to perform their duties with the necessary diligence. They have not been allowed to return home for up to 15 months in some cases.
“Governments and representatives of seafarers and shipowners must continue to work in cooperation and partnership to make things better for seafarers and fishers and ensure a brighter future.”