Reports of improved seafarers’ treatment were though frequent; the pace can be quicker
Crew change saw some recovery in the recent months. However, Abu Dhabi-based shipowner GAC Marine felt the crisis remains a considerable challenge for some countries yet to keep up.
Lukewarm response and action
GAC pointed out by May 2021, only 55 out of the IMO’s 174 member states recognised seafarers as essential workers. That number has now reached 60 – underscoring the importance of persistent pressure on the balance of member states yet to act. On vaccinations alone, the company noted that of the estimated 1.7 million seafarers worldwide, more than half are from countries with vaccination programmes lag behind richer nations. Many seafarers remain deprived of vaccines that could help make their passage to and from home a realistic prospect.
Some IMO member states are working to improve seafarer vaccination rates: namely Australia, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, India, the Netherlands and the United States. These efforts were driven by local NGOs and authorities linked to the industry. Among those campaigning to ease the plight of the maritime workforce is the Global Maritime Forum’s Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change – of which GAC happens to be a signatory.
International border restrictions
This is by far the largest challenge to get things running at an acceptable pace by worldwide standards. When nations impose a wide array of border restrictions that thwart efforts to have seafarers get access to assistance or even vaccines, all stakeholders wind up focusing more on avoiding violating any regulations for fear of penalties – especially concerning the virus’ spreading.
The silver lining is both India and Sri Lanka commenced procedures to facilitate crew change with the assistance of GAC Marine. However, attention is still required to keep up with the fluid regulations across different authorities. Nevertheless, seafarers are encouraged to obtain a visa, in addition to having a valid Seaman’s Book. GAC urges the shipping industry to continue supporting seafarers, maintaining pressure on all IMO member states to designate them as critical workers. With crews that remain stranded onboard beyond their contracted periods, stress and fatigue would be more challenging to deal with.