All hands on deck to help seafarers and their families amidst COVID-19 crisis from shipping players and charities
Activists cannot stress enough the urgency of crew change and seafarer welfare. As the pandemic continues to devastate India with 21 million recorded infections, several countries tightened their border restrictions to curb spreading. Acknowledging the importance of sustaining the world supply chains did nothing to catalyse proactive support from shipowners. Instead, enormous numbers of seafarers remain stuck onboard – seemingly reliving the 2020 ordeal.
Fortunately, seafarers and their families can look forward to some respite from the industry. Leading seafarer welfare charities and shipping industry players have launched an emergency relief fund to support seafarers and their families ravaged by the pandemic in India and other countries.
$1million Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF)
The Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF) has set a US$1 million target. Renowned international seafarer welfare organisations driving the movement include The Seafarers’ Charity (formerly Seafarers UK) supported by The Mission to Seafarers, ISWAN, Sailors’ Society and other charities. The fund is to deliver urgent support to seafarers and their families in India.
Esben Poulsson, chair of the International Chamber of Shipping, commented: We are shocked by the images and stories about India. Seafarer charities’ banding together signifies the scale of the challenge before us. I appeal to shipowners and those engaged in the maritime sector to support this initiative and consider increasing your contribution to seafarer charities at this time. When faced with significant challenges, the maritime community always comes together – this is what we do.”
Catherine Spencer, chief executive of The Seafarers’ Charity, remarked: “India is fighting against the pandemic. This directly affects seafarers and their families, who have suffered tremendously over the past 15 months. Although we are under no illusions about the scale of the challenge, our collective help can make a difference. By joining forces to form the SIRF, we aim to send a clear message about the urgency of the crisis faced by seafarers globally; pooling our resources to ensure that support can be delivered the soonest. We are calling on companies and individuals across the industry, which can make a real difference with the contributions to support this cause.”
Commercial entities step up
A few major shipping organisations have pledged their support, including Anglo-Eastern, Ardmore Shipping, Cargill, Hafnia, IRI (Marshall Islands Flag), MSC, Pacific Basin, etc V.Group. One of those donors, Mark Cameron, COO of Ardmore Shipping, spoke on behalf of those organisations supporting the Fund: “Witnessing India deteriorate rapidly over the past few days, it is clear this crisis requires an unprecedented response from all of us.
“Shipping is a global family, and our Indian seafarers need our help. Many at sea are desperately worried about their families as the situation in India worsens. With limited contact with home, seafarers are caught between travel restrictions, the crew change crisis, and the understandable desire to continue working to support their families. I would urge everyone to donate to this critical appeal, so that we can deliver the support and needed relief for many months to come.”
Also commenting on the Fund, Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, executive vice president at A.P. Møller – Mærsk A/S said: “We stand with our seafarers as we deal with the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maersk supports the creation of the SIRF, and we will do our utmost to support our Indian seafarers and their families at this difficult time.”
The Fund will be used to deliver aid through existing welfare programmes run by the welfare partners in India, make sure that support reaches seafarers and their families as soon as possible, and ensure that support can remain in place over the challenging weeks and months ahead.
Although the immediate focus of the campaign is India, other countries also remain highly vulnerable to the pandemic, including those with large numbers of international seafarers. The goal of the SIRF is to be ready to support seafarers and their families afflicted by the pandemic in other countries should the need arises.