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45 countries designated seafarers as key workers

Forty-five IMO Member States and one Associate Member, Hong Kong,  have now designated seafarers as key workers, a key step in resolving the ongoing crew change crisis. 

Key worker designation is essential to exempt these professionals from specific COVID-related travel restrictions, allowing them to travel between their country of residence and ships, and to be repatriated at the end of their contracts.

The restrictions have left over 400,000 seafarers stranded at sea, and the same number of seafarers unable to join ships.

The designation could even play a key role in granting seafarers priority access to safe vaccination. 

The situation has become a genuine humanitarian crisis as borders and ports closed to crew changes.

It has forced seafarers to stay on board for months beyond their contracts, exerting growing pressure on their physical endurance and mental health. For those, who have finally been able to return home the ordeal has put to question their future in the business as they felt neglected and unable to exercise their basic human right.

On the other hand, for many of those who were and are still unable to sign onto ships, the period ashore meant that they had no other income, putting a major financial strain on them and their families.

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The IMO has called all its member states to designate seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ providing an essential service, in order to facilitate safe and unhindered movement for embarking or disembarking a vessel.

“Member States that have not yet done so are strongly encouraged to take action to address this issue and designate seafarers as key workers as a matter of urgency,” the IMO said.

As of 2020, there are 174 member states of the IMO, which includes 173 of the UN member states plus the Cook Islands.

  • The countries that designated seafarers as key workers are: Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece,  Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen.  

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The long-overdue global response to the crew change crisis coupled with additional for those trying to repatriate seafarers and maneuver rapidly changing local regulations and logistical nightmares have also meant higher costs for ship owners and operators.

Drewry estimates that average daily operating costs across the 47 different ship types and sizes covered in the report jumped 4.5% in 2020, compared to underlying increases of 2% and 2.5% respectively in the previous two years.

Manning costs were particularly impacted, climbing 6.2% in 2020 compared to underlying rises of 1.3%, while hull and machinery (H&M) and protection and indemnity (P&I) cover costs jumped 4.5% on a hardening insurance market.

Rising threat of kidnapping and pirate attacks

Aside to the Coronavirus challenges, mental stress and physical fatigue, with some seafarers also being unpaid for months, piracy is another major challenge the industry faces.

Surging piracy attacks and kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea are very worrisome and are likely to contribute to the ever-diminishing attractiveness of the seafaring profession.

Unfortunately, almost every day there are piracy alerts of an attempted boarding, or even worse kidnapping of the crew.

Earlier today Dryad Global reported that the Cameroonian flagged M/V STEVIA was boarded while in transit from Port Harcourt to Abidjan, and that eight of its crew embers were kidnapped.

This incident is the 27th kidnapping with a total number of 138 persons kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea HRA in 2020. 

This is the 9th incident in the GoG HRA in December alone.