Seafarers with finished contracts onboard international trade vessels can now choose to exercise their right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.
This was the pronouncement made by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as it slammed the continued disregard and insufficient action by some governments on the crew change crisis even after it forewarned the industry that after June 15, it will no longer be acceptable that seafarers are forced to continue to work.
In a recent statement, ITF and its affiliated seafarers’ unions pledged to assist hundreds of thousands of mariners to return back home.
“If you have finished your contract, then you have the right to be repatriated. If this is not possible, then you would remain onboard as a passenger. The consequences could be that the ship is unable to sail if the manning level is inadequate but that is not your responsibility,” ITF president Paddy Crumlin said.
“You have done your job, performed your duties, and accepted that you were unable to return home in the beginning in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 – but no more. Enough is enough,” he continued.
About 200,000 seafarers have been caught up in the crew change crisis due to travel restrictions and repatriation delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some seafarers, over the course of a month, have already committed suicide due to depression and sheer disappointment of not being able come home.
“Some seafarers have been onboard for more than a year and many have been prevented by governments from coming ashore for a walk and alarmingly refused emergency and medical care. Frankly, we have seafarers killing themselves at the prospect of this misery continuing without end. They call them ‘floating prisons’. This situation is intolerable to the ITF family,” said ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair Dave Heindel.
“Enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home. No more contract extensions.” said Crumlin.
ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton said all that governments need to do is make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions, and allow these key workers to transit through their territories and return to their families. A few small changes by national governments would allow seafarers to get home, and be relieved by a fresh crew, he said.
“If a seafarers wants off a ship, then the ITF, our affiliated unions and the ITF inspectorate will do everything we can to assist them. We fully expect port state authorities in all countries where ships dock to honour their obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to get these seafarers safely home. That is their legal obligation,”
“If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers,”
“Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough,” said Cotton.
Effect on Filipino seafarers
While the guaranteed support from an international body was welcomed by many, some experts from the local manning sector sees an impending threat to the jobs of Filipino seafarers.
“It could be detrimental to the interest of our seafarers,” says Capt. Edgardo Flores, General Manager of Greek-owned Eastern Mediterranean Manning Agency.
The seasoned captain pointed out the hurdles that manning agencies have to go through from conflicting and limiting government guidelines that hamper the crew change processes.
“If we are not able to deploy seafarers to relieve those who are disembarking from the ships, ship owners will immediately look into other countries to get crew. Filipino seafarers are bound to lose their jobs over foreign nationals if government agencies will not have a uniformed set of guidelines,” he said.
Capt. Flores shared a recent experience when they almost failed to process crew change due to contradicting directives of government agencies.
“Filipino seafarers were supposed to replace the disembarking foreign crew on one ship. We already received a go signal from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Department of Transportation (DOTr), and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), even the boarding doctor approved the crew change; only the boarding officer from the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) prevented it. While he eventually approved the process, it has already delayed the ship operations and incurred huge expenses on the ship owner.
“You could only imagine the difficulties this is causing the manning agencies and ship owners. All sectors in the industry are helping to bring our seafarers back home and provide jobs to those who are stranded here on shore. We could only hope for the government to do the same,” he said.