The IMO has echoed shipping industry calls for governments to keep shipping and supply chains open and grant special travel exemptions to seafarers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Circular Letter issued 30 March 2020, it has distributed a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector.
The Circular Letter specifically calls on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as 'key workers' providing an essential service.
Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
The circular letter reiterates earlier calls made by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, who said it was "crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted." He took the opportunity to repeat his own statement that seafarers are "on the front line of this global calamity" and that the situation needs a "practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers."
The Circular Letter confirms that, in this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade, transport and services moving. It calls on governments around the world to develop their policies and measures to protect public health and address COVID-19, without introducing obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers and marine personnel. Governments and national authorities are strongly encouraged to ensure that all visiting commercial ships continue to have access to berths in port and terminals.
In the Circular Letter, the Secretary-General referred to the outcome of the G20 Leaders' Summit on COVID-19 on 26 March 2020, in which the G20 leaders committed to continue working together to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
The leaders pledged to "work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, to support the health and well-being of all people."