“You are not alone. You are not forgotten”. So said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in a moving personal message to seafarers everywhere, assuring them that IMO understands the unique problems they face during the coronavirus pandemic and has been working tirelessly at all levels to find solutions for them.
Hundreds of ship sailings have been cancelled as trade has been reduced in line with the slowing global economy and ports all over the world have either closed or drastically cut their operations.
But restrictions on travel and personal movement adopted by most countries have left many seafarers stranded on board ships, unable to disembark or be replaced by relief crews. Others find themselves stuck in hotels, without pay and unable to get flights home.
Estimates suggest that, every month, 100,000 seafarers finish their contracts and would normally be flown home – but the coronavirus has had a huge negative impact on this repatriation process.
Since the start of the global lockdown, IMO has been in urgent contact with trade unions, seafarer welfare organizations, shipowners, governments and fellow United Nations agencies, especially the International Labour Organization, to try and find solutions.
Lim said he had been “deeply touched by the many stories we have heard from individual seafarers of the challenges, hardships and sacrifices that seafarers have made to keep the global supply chain moving while helping the global population.” He noted the difficulties the maritime industry has faced in conducting crew changeovers, providing medical care for sick and injured crew and allowing for shore leave, and added “the inability to resupply or repatriate crews concerns me greatly”.
Describing seafarers as being in the “front line’’ of the global fight against the pandemic, Lim said, “All of us at IMO understand the challenges you face. ” He added “To all seafarers, my message to you is strong and clear: We are listening. We hear you.”
Secretary-General Lim has written to all IMO Member States, urging them to recognize all seafarers as “key workers”, remove any barriers to their documentation and lift national travel restrictions so that they can get home on conclusion of their contracts, and rejoin their families. And, wherever possible, IMO staff have been working round the clock to help bring individual cases to a speedy resolution.
Lim’s message can be accessed here.