Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has caused distressing problems for seafarers as crew changes have become fraught with difficulty and huge delays, essentially trapping crew onboard beyond the end of their contracted periods. The same has been happening to crew on bunker barges in some ports.
This upsetting news was heard during discussions with IBIA members at the end of April about COVID-19 impacts. The issues arise when the crew on bunker barges are predominantly foreign nationals. They will typically be on 1-3-month contracts before being relieved. Now, however, foreign nationals are being forced by some local authorities to stay on the barge beyond the end of their contracts. Travel restrictions means they can’t go home either.
Like on ships, it means some barge crew members have been trapped onboard for several months, and it is causing problems of morale. The maritime industry has faced difficulties not just in conducting crew changeovers, but also in providing medical care for sick and injured crew, and allowing for shore leave. The impact on their mental and physical welfare is a major concern.
The IMO has written to all its Member States, urging them to recognise all seafarers as “key workers” and remove any barriers to crew changes and repatriation so they can get home on conclusion of their contracts.
It may be necessary to extend some crew members’ time onboard to reduce infection risk, but it is important to ensure they have support. Crew welfare is primarily the responsibility of employers, but there are, sadly, many instances where that falls short. In the current climate, however, limitations on movement have caused problems outside vessel owners’ control.
Several organisations, both global and more local ones, work to support seafarers’ welfare at all times. Some have launched special COVID-19 relief campaigns.
One such organisation is the Mission to Seafarers, which has also just published a report giving insight into the toll the global COVID-19 pandemic is taking on seafarers.
IBIA’s Director, Unni Einemo, has supported fundraising efforts for the Mission to Seafarers (MtS) in the past two years by joining an IMO team for the Nightrider, a 100 km bike ride through London at night. This year’s Nightrider has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but MtS has created a ‘Global Champions Unite’ challenge to raise funds for their new on-line welfare service. You can donate or become a fundraiser by setting yourself a fitness challenge on this link.
The coronavirus has impacted us all and will continue to do so in various ways, but the plight of crew stuck onboard vessels for extended periods is unique. IBIA encourages you all to support them if you can. That could be through a global organisation like those mentioned above, through local or regional organisations, or in other ways available to you as an employer or shore-based contact for those working onboard vessels.