On June 26 – the Day of the Seafarer – the international maritime community reaffirmed its pleas for universal designation of seafarers as key workers to enable crew rotation.

Rather than being a day of celebration, this year’s Day of the Seafarer marked for sombre reflection on how seafarers have been let down during the Covid-19 crisis, commented the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

As a result of the pandemic and travel restrictions around the globe, hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stranded on ships. In many cases, their contracts have been extended for several months beyond the maximum time at sea permitted under international regulations.

“The crew change crisis is a humanitarian disaster,” said ITF. “Some governments are continuing to prevent more than 200,000 seafarers of their right to stop working when their contract has expired, from getting off the ships and returning home and even refused them access to necessary medical treatment and shore leave. Seafarers have rights as every other human does.”

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) hosted a webinar with one clear message: governments must act to bring seafarers home. In the opening remarks, IMO secretary general Kitack Lim said: “Seafarers’ work is unique and essential. Seafarers are on the front line in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need – and deserve – quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during this pandemic, but at all times.”

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and ITF joined the IMO in urging countries to implement protocols, developed by the maritime industry, on safe crew change.

While several travel restrictions have eased and some countries have designated crew as key workers, the maritime industry has argued that global solution is required. Individual, national responses are not going to be enough to tackle a global problem affecting a global supply chain.