COVID-19: 300,000 seafarers need flights for crew changes, says UNCTAD estimate

About half the seafarers will have to travel home by air for repatriation, while the other half will need to join ships for work

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 11 June 2020

Around 300,000 seafarers operating marine transport will need international flights to enable crew changeovers every month, starting mid-June 2020, according to an estimate by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) on June 10, 2020.

About half the seafarers will have to travel home by air for repatriation, while the other half will need to join ships for work. Around 70,000 cruise ship staff await repatriation, said the estimate.

Crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely, the estimate said. It called for governments to work together and facilitate crew changeover to remove “unnecessary regulatory obstacles” to maritime transport during and after the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

This process is currently hampered by travel restrictions due to lockdowns in several parts of the world to curb the spread of the COVID-19.

Maritime transport — operated by two million seafarers — carries more than 80 per cent of global trade by volume, including most of the world’s food, energy, raw materials and manufactured goods.

The world’s reliance on maritime transport makes it more important than ever to keep ships moving, ports open, facilitate cross-border trade flows and support crew changeovers, the United Nations maritime and trade bodies said in a joint statement on June 10.

Crew changeovers are essential for the continuity of shipping. Crews on commercial fishing vessels — which provide a major source of global nutrition — must also be periodically changed to avoid fatigue.

Designate seafarers as ‘key workers’

The statement called for a ‘key worker’ designation for seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel and service personnel at ports.

The workers provide essential services regardless of their nationality and should thus be exempt from travel restrictions.

“Such a designation will ensure trade in essential goods — including medical supplies and food — is not hampered by the pandemic and associated containment measures,” the statement said.

Remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles

UNCTAD and IMO also urged governments to remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery and grant exemptions and waivers where necessary.

The measures suggest facilitating electronic means for ship-shore, administrative and commercial interactions.

“There should be effective sharing of pre-arrival information and other COVID-19-related reporting requirements for ships as well as the provision of adequate equipment and resources to customs and border control stations in ports,” the statement said.

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