According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 1.6 million seafarers are stranded at sea and are unable to go home, while relief crews cannot be brought in.
The UK Chamber of Shipping said up to 2,000 – or around one in 13 – of the UK’s 25,750 seafarers were among the stranded.
In a letter written to Shipping Minister Kelly Tolhurst, the trade association has asked the UK government to sign up to and acknowledge the International Maritime Organisation COVID-19 guidance for personal protective equipment and for interactions between ship and shore-based personnel to ensure crew changeovers can resume. Getting them home is “increasingly taking on a humanitarian dimension”, it adds.
Working at sea often entails consecutive shifts over weeks or even months with few days off, followed by a rest period of weeks or months between trips. While these seafarers are unable to return, work will resume even for those in need of a break.
Mark Dickinson, general secretary of seafarer union Nautilus International, said many UK seafarers were working 90-hour weeks.
In an interview with the BBC, he said: “It’s a confined workplace – not the Hilton Hotel – for three, four or five months. The accommodation is fairly basic and you’re with a small group of people.
“You get into a situation where you think, ‘I’ve got six weeks to go,’ ‘I’ve got four weeks to go,’ and even when this is extended by 24 hours it’s pretty awful. It’s worse when it’s so open-ended.”
Despite uncertainty, seafarers have been honoured for their hard work and professionalism throughout the global pandemic by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
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Main image: Container ship leaving bay area, Derell Licht, Flickr Creative Commons
By Sofi Summers