ITF: 600,000 seafarers impacted by crew change crisis

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) estimates that there are now approximately 300,000 seafarers trapped working aboard ships due to the crew change crisis caused Covid-19 border and travel restrictions, and an equal number of unemployed seafarers waiting to join them who are ashore.

Illustration; Image by Navingo

Explaning the figure, the union said there are over 9,500 ships which are covered by International Bargaining Forum (IBF) agreements between the ITF and respective employers. These ships are operated by an estimated 370,000 seafarers.

Seafarers on IBF-covered ships make up 30.8% of the 1.2 million seafarers that the International Chamber of Shipping estimate make up the worldwide seafaring workforce. By taking the 25% overdue figure from IBF-covered ships and extrapolating it to 1.2 million seafarers worldwide, there is an estimated 300,000 seafarers already overdue worldwide still working aboard ships, matched by another 300,000 waiting to join ships.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said there has been some positive movement, but too little progress has been made by governments to bring in the practical exemptions and protocols needed to support functioning crew changes across the world.

“300,000 seafarers are trapped working aboard these vessels another 300,000 are facing financial ruin at home, desperate to relieve these ships and start earning wages again. Governments are the biggest barrier to resolving the growing crew change crisis,” said Cotton.

“Governments must wake up and realise that without a return to successful crew changes; it is simply not sustainable or acceptable to have a growing number of tired and fatigued seafarers trapped working aboard the world’s ships endangering themselves, their vessels and our maritime environment.”

The call is being issued one month since the ITF told the world’s governments that ‘Enough is Enough’ and that the federation and its affiliates would be assisting the world’s seafarers in enforcing their right to stop working, get off and be repatriated to their homes and families, following completion of their contracts.

Cotton warned that governments must act before we see more people die, or a major maritime disaster takes place.

Chair of the ITF Seafarers Section, Dave Heindel, said the ITF and its social partners have been doing everything possible to raise the alarm and push for the practical changes that would enable crew changes.

“We commend the governments which have brought in options for seafarers to disembark and be relieved by fresh crew, such as visas on arrival and visa waivers, but the sad fact is that globally governments aren’t doing near what is needed and some governments have even gone backwards,” said Heindel.

“It is not acceptable that some countries have withdrawn shore leave for seafarers or began restricting the number of people allowed to enter their borders each day. Those countries that rely on maritime trade, like Australia and Russia – must start pulling their weight on this issue.”

He added that the ITF and its affiliates would be following up on the 13 governments who made pledges this month at the International Maritime Virtual Summit on Crew Changes hosted by the United Kingdom and hold them accountable.

“The ITF family will also be calling out any attempts to intimidate or blacklist seafarers for either exercising their human right to stop working and be repatriated once their contract has finished, and we will defend them from any attempts to blame them for the inevitable consequences of the worlds’ fleet operating with an increasingly tired, fatigued crew.

We renew our call for governments to take action on visas, quarantining and flights to see a return towards functioning crew changes for this global workforce. We are prepared to explore other options to influence more governments to take this crisis seriously,” said Heindel.