SEAFARERS ARE KEY WORKERS - DAY OF THE SEAFARER 2020

By Nithya Solomon, June 28, 2020

Day of the Seafarer marks its 10th anniversary on 25 June 2020. More than 80 per cent of global trade is transported by ships and the COVID-19 pandemic has put seafarers on the frontline as they maintain the flow of vital goods including essential food and medical supplies. Travel restrictions that have come into play in countries across the world have led to difficult working conditions for seafarers including challenges relating to port access, re-supply, crew changeovers and repatriation.

This year - 2020 -  the “Day of the Seafarer” campaign calls on Member States to recognize seafarers as “Key Workers” – and to provide them with support, assistance and travel options during the pandemic. The World Maritime University’s mother institution, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) recognizes “the invaluable contribution that seafarers make to international trade and the world economy, often at great personal cost to themselves and their families”.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) tripartite maritime constituents have joined the IMO in recognizing that “seafarers should be officially recognized as “Key Workers”, and be granted exemptions from any travel restrictions and special considerations to enable them to join and leave their ships and return home without impediment, while complying with good practice in infection control”.

Over 300,000 seafarers have been awaiting international flights to enable crew changeovers. On the “Day of the Seafarer”, Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU sent this important video message.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has hit the world’s seafarers particularly hard even while the world’s reliance on them has increased, now more than ever before,” she said, highlighting that many have been at sea for more than 15 months with access to ports denied, even in cases of medical emergencies, and that when granted access, they have not necessarily been provided with sufficient protection to ensure their continuing good health. “A failure by countries to recognize seafarers as the ‘Key Workers’ they are has led to significant difficulties in facilitating crew changeovers leading to the inordinate extension of seafarer contracts and resulting in an increase in fatigue and severe mental health issues,” she said.

President Doumbia-Henry highlighted the efforts of the UN family – the International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), governmental and non-governmental organizations, and the social partners - the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) -  to mobilize their resources to support seafarers. The global maritime industry, including the ITF and the ICS have also provided guidance to minimize the impact on seafarers and to keep the global supply chain open. Enabling seafarers to transit and transfer through countries is critical to keeping the supply chain open and addressing seafarers’ welfare and wellbeing.

“Today, let us all come together and join the IMO, ILO, ITF and ICS campaign, under the social network hashtag 'Seafarers are Key Workers.' Let us show our seafarers the respect and support that they deserve by requesting all governments to take every necessary measure to alleviate the current crisis situation that they are currently so unfairly experiencing.” said President Doumbia-Henry. This is in the interest of the global economy and for keeping the supply chain open.

WMU has educated generations of maritime professionals, many of whom are working to alleviate the challenges and crises the maritime industry and global economy are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To honour them, and also all seafarers, the University - in collaboration with the ITF Seafarers’ Trust - is making publicly available a package containing three lessons entitled: "Supporting Seafarers in Stressful Times". To help seafarers in this difficult situation, the package addresses Seafarers’ Stress; Stress and Coping Strategies; and Mental Health – including information from WHO, and issues relating to isolation, depression and suicide. The lectures are part of  WMU’S Professional Development programme on Maritime Welfare ( MARI-WELL)  developed in collaboration with the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, that provides an essential overview of the international legal framework that obliges States to respect seafarers’ dignity and provide them with a safe working environment, including timely facilitation of their repatriation.

Almost everything that people use and need in their daily lives is directly or indirectly impacted by sea transport, making seafarers essential to our way of life since they are responsible for the safe and smooth delivery of the cargo. Day of the Seafarer is celebrated annually on 25 June to express thanks to the World’s 1,2 million seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships thereby contributing to the world economy and economic and social well-being. About 30 percent of WMU faculty and students have seafaring experience. Seafarers inspire the work of the University in serving the global maritime community through education, research and capacity building. WMU’s Maritime Education and Training specialization is also designed, among others, to develop maritime educators and administrators, with a particular focus on the STCW requirements, while the Maritime Law and Policy specialization addresses the world of work component with a special focus of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as revised.