In a move that vindicates an earlier statement issued by the twenty-two unions affiliated to the Nautilus Federation, the International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA) has taken the unusual step of issuing a direct Notice to all Shipmasters calling on them to 'protect themselves and their crew against fatigue' and reminding them of their duty and responsibility to report to shipowners any complaints of breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
The IFSMA notice also highlights that under both Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) and the International Safety Management Code (ISM), shipmasters have an obligation to report significant safety issues to the shipowners 'designated person ashore' and the flag state authorities of the vessel and that in order to avoid potential criminalisation they should 'refuse to sail on entry into your next port' if your complaints have not been resolved.
Backing the earlier Nautilus warning, IFSMA is highlighting the potential for ships' officers to face criminalisation for maritime accidents brought about by fatigued and mentally impaired seafarers caused by long hours of work and prolonged tours of duty due to the crew change crisis. 'If a maritime incident takes place in which tiredness and the mental health of officers and crew are found to have undermined the safe operation of the ship, this is a real concern,' IFSMA warned.
On Friday 5 June speaking on behalf of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson warned that the excuse of force majeure – unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract – to deny crew changes is 'no longer appropriate'.
'Governments need to facilitate safe crew changes and do it now. There are some 400,000 seafarers stranded, either at sea or on shore waiting to re-join, by the travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the seafarers have been at sea for up to 15 months and many are well past their contractual obligations,' said Mr Dickinson.
'The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have backed the industry protocols developed to enable crew changes to be undertaken safely. As such the conditions for force majeure no longer exist. Continuing to accept this is providing governments with an excuse and risks seafarers becoming collateral damage in the fight against the virus.
'As proud affiliates of IFSMA and the ITF, Nautilus welcomes their efforts to get crew changes moving and is ready to work with anyone seeking to get our members home or back to work. We stand with IFSMA and the ITF in reminding the industry of our determination to defend the interests of our members.'