The seafarers’ welfare charity Human Rights at Sea has condemned the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)’s suggestion that mariners may down tools and stop working due to the long-running regulatory obstacles blocking crew changes.
An estimated 200,000 seafarers who are due to rotate off their vessels are currently stuck at sea due to travel bans and port disembarkation closures, according to ITF. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said Tuesday that some stranded seafarers have been on board for 15 months, well beyond the limits specified by the Maritime Labor Convention.
On June 15, the ITF said that it will begin assisting hundreds of thousands of seafarers to exercise their “right to stop working, leave ships, and return home.” ITF noted that it would be quite disruptive to global trade if seafarers simply depart their posts, but it insisted that it is time to look out for the needs of its members.
“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,” said ITF general secretary Steve Cotton. “Seafarers have done our part in this pandemic, and plenty more. Enough is enough.”
On Tuesday, HRAS denounced this position as a dangerous move that could have dire consequences for vulnerable populations. “Such a call to action for global organized disruption will predominantly affect those in the margins of society for whom charity and welfare support are quite literally lifelines, including the reliance on regular seaborne resupply for supporting the day-to-day lives of entire communities and states,” HRAS said in a statement. “This will include seafaring communities and dependents; the very people ITF is claiming to support.”
HRAS warned that ITF’s course of action could mean that millions of people who rely upon food and medical aid shipments – like those in refugee camps in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere – might see vital supplies interrupted.
“Previous claims of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ due to lack of crew-change could now be eclipsed in terms of repercussions of this unnecessary call to action, while the consequential deaths resulting from failures to deliver aid, urgently needed medicines, re-supplies for global frontline healthcare workers, including critical stocks of PPE and medical equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic . . . must see those responsible [ITF] held to account,” said HRAS. “Human Rights at Sea cannot support ITF in this matter and calls on the IMO, ICS and other industry entities to publicly distance themselves from this damaging and ill-conceived call to action.”
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