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Warning of looming humanitarian crisis as seafarers' rights continue to deteriorate

11 February 2022

Warnings of an imminent humanitarian crisis have been made over the reintroduction of disproportionate quarantine and travel restrictions on seafarers by port States, despite the measures in place for Covid infection control.

Many countries that in 2021 made decisions to ease the restrictions affecting the daily life of their citizens are once again tightening their policies, the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee (STC) of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) reported at a February 11 meeting in Geneva.

'The crew change situation remains critical and appears to be deteriorating, which jeopardises the safe and uninterrupted delivery of vital supplies. In certain areas of the world, seafarers are systematically denied access to medical facilities when in need of immediate care, causing an imminent renewed humanitarian crisis.'

The STC was responding to the publication of an International Labour Organization report, which revealed the continued negative impacts of the pandemic on seafarers' rights and which contains strong observations on port States' failures to tackle the crew change crisis.

The 185-page report by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations is highly critical of the way many Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) ratifying States have ignored seafarers' rights during the pandemic. The Committee is 'deeply concerned' that violations of the MLC may increase due to new restrictions adopted by governments to contain Covid-19 variants.

It expresses 'deep regret' over seafarers being denied medical care ashore, both for urgent cases and consistent refusal to allow sick seafarers to disembark or to allow for the bodies of deceased seafarers to be removed from vessels and repatriated.

The Committee further expresses regret over the number of ratifying countries that continue to invoke force majeure as a reason to deny seafarers shore leave and to extend periods of time onboard, even beyond the maximum period of 11 months.

They emphasise that 'given that almost two years have passed since the beginning of the pandemic, the notion of force majeure should not be regarded as a valid reason to deprive seafarers of their rights, as there are options available worldwide to comply with the provisions of the MLC.'

It recommends States should 'adopt, without delay, all necessary measures to fully restore the protection of seafarers' rights and fully comply with their obligations under the MLC.'

Following publication of the ILO report, the Officers of the STC urge the International Labour Office 'to continue to raise awareness among governments, including labour supplying States and port and flag State authorities, that the goods on which we all rely on in our everyday lives are transported by seafarers who should be treated with dignity and respect to ensure that they can continue to provide their vital services to the world'.

STC is the tripartite body established under Article XIII of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended to keep the working of the Convention under continuous review. Appointed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Body for a period of three years, officers are: Chairperson Julie Carlton, UK, and vice-chairs Martin Marini, Singapore, Mark Dickinson, UK, Max Johns, Germany.

The full report can be accessed on the ILO website.