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The 300,000 seafarers stuck at sea will be ignored until they go on strike. Will they?

PortandTerminal.com, June 15, 2020

It’s now time for seafarers to go on strike to force governments to take immediate action and facilitate their swift repatriation. The time for talk alone is over.

LONDON – There are presently 300,000 seafarers working at sea beyond their contractual agreement. Most have already extended their contracts. Some have been trapped on board their vessels and separated from their families for many months.

“Unable to get off ships, the maximum sea time stipulated in international conventions is being ignored, with some seafarers marooned at sea for 15 months,”

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

Last month, a deal was finally reached that promised them they would be able to go home by today, June 15th. But now that promise has been broken and 300,000 seafarers remain at sea trapped on their vessels.

What happens now?

Families of the seafarers who need a crew change have launched a movement, #BringHomeSailors, to bring awareness to their plight

There has been no shortage of urgent appeals issued by shipping organizations, families and unions representing the seafarers calling attention to their plight and demanding action.

On Friday, Intercargo chairman Dimitris Fafalios called the situation “an invisible humanitarian crisis” unfolding at sea in a video that he and colleague Jay K. Pillai, Vice-Chairman at Intercargo released.

“Today an invisible humanitarian crisis is unfolding around us we have more than 300,000 seafarers trapped at sea having ended their contractual term on board and absolutely desperate to return to their homes and families most have already extended their contracts and are already fatigued and stressed but with no way to leave their vessel and no one able to relieve them they’re unable to foresee when their ordeal will end” 

Last month in a joint statement the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) issued a statement in which they urged governments to immediately follow the IMO’s guidelines on crew change.

Failure to abide by the deadline, the statement warned, could “negatively impact on the commercial viability” of ship operations.

You have done your job, performed your duties, and accepted that you were unable to return home in the beginning in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 – but no more. Enough is enough.

ITF Statement issued on their website June 15, 2020

Seafarers have been pushed into a corner and need to take collective labor action to bring urgency to their plight. While they remain at sea they will remain an invisible crisis that has proven to be easy to ignore.

“Despite all the support from the shipping industry and the United Nations and their agencies, you continue to be treated as second class citizens” the ITF is advising its members. 

On June 19th, members of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU) will shut down all 29 ports along the West Coast in solidarity with ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd.

It’s now time for seafarers to implement their own work stoppage to force governments to take immediate action and facilitate their swift repatriation. If appealing to governments on a humanitarian basis won’t produce change, perhaps impacting their supply lines and economic recoveries will.

The time for talk alone is over.

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