June 26 ------ The Day of the Seafarer 2020 pays tribute to unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic — the seafarers who continue to carry essential goods despite facing tremendous challenges, including being stranded on board. The Day of the Seafarer is celebrated every year on 25 June. Organized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), this year’s campaign calls on governments to take action and formally recognize seafarers as key workers. With the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the services seafarers provide are more important than ever. Seafarers play an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, fuels and medical supplies, that people, everywhere, need.
This is why the 2020 campaign is calling on IMO Member States to recognize seafarers as key workers – and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic. The campaign also seeks to raise awareness of the sacrifice of seafarers and the issues they face. Travel restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded at sea, unsure when they will be able to return home. Many are fatigued and weary because their time at sea has been extended for months beyond the maximum stipulated in international conventions.
In his Day of the Seafarer message, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim highlighted ‘the unique and essential work of seafarers’, who deliver 80% of global trade by volume. He praised the dedication, professionalism and resilience of seafarers, at a time when many are unable to be repatriated or replaced by relief crews. The Secretary-General also emphasized the difficulties faced by seafarers, including denial of shore leave, difficulties in accessing medical care and, in some cases, the lack of personal protective equipment. “Despite all these challenges, seafarers have stayed on the job, 24/7,” Lim said. “Just like other key workers, seafarers are on the front line in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need – and deserve – quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during the pandemic, but at all times.” Lim has written to all IMO Member States, urging them to recognize all seafarers as “key workers”.
This call was echoed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres who thanked and saluted seafarers everywhere for their work, and urged all countries in the world to honor seafarers by recognizing them as key workers and providing the necessary travel assistance to ensure safe crew changeovers and repatriations.
“The Day of the Seafarer is when we take stock and appreciate the hard-working, professional and frequently heroic souls that make world trade possible. We owe them so much, especially now during this awful pandemic. But this year the day is clouded with sadness and frustration,” Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO & Founder of Synergy Group, commented. “Today tens of thousands of hard-working seafarers are in a state of constant anxiety that threatens their mental health and general wellness. This awful state of affairs was, of course, caused by coronavirus lockdowns that have seen so many confined to ships indefinitely, and long beyond their legal contracts. But the situation has been exacerbated and prolonged by the inaction of politicians and cruelties of bureaucracy which are preventing crew changeovers so seafarers can return home to their worried families. We keep hearing seafarers are key, essential workers. So it is difficult to understand why, even as they deliver the products we need to survive the current crisis, seafarers are being denied basic human rights,” he stressed.
Unni further said that a systematic approach to crew changeovers is needed. “We need airports opened up, and aircraft landing slots and clearances granted with far more urgency. We need visas to be fast-tracked. And, more than anything, we need politicians and civil servants to help us cut through the red tape. Today is the day when shipping needs help from our political leaders so that we can help our seafarers. Because enough really is enough,” he concluded.