UN labour agency calls on governments to aid seafarers stranded by pandemic

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The International Labour Organization (ILO) has taken the extraordinary action of adopting a resolution to address the dire situation of hundreds of thousands seafarers trapped at sea because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations’ labour agency said many shipping and transport workers have been at sea for as long as 17 months, unable to go home or get medical care as restrictions make it almost impossible to rotate crews.

In its resolution, ILO called on nations to address their plight by providing medical care to seafarers in need, waiving visa or documentation requirements and designating seafarers as key workers who are allowed to go home.

“The problems faced by seafarers resulting from efforts to contain the virus have lasted unacceptably long,” said ILO Director General Guy Ryder in a statement.

“These key workers continue to transport the food, medicines and goods that we need, but their extended periods at sea, and the inability of seafarers ashore to relieve them, are simply unsustainable.”

About 90% of world trade goods are transported by sea, and coronavirus restrictions have crippled supply chains even as lockdowns ease in some parts of the world.

Nautilus International, a union of some 20,000 shipping workers, has launched a global campaign for crew changes by Christmas.

The London-based organisation said it estimates 400,000 seafarers are stranded on ships, unable to be relieved.

Another 400,000 seafarers are home, unable to take over the jobs at sea and in serious financial hardship, it said.

At a virtual summit hosted by Britain in July, a dozen countries including the United States, Germany and Singapore agreed to open up their borders to seafarers and increase the number of commercial flights to speed up repatriation efforts.

But countries must act on their commitments, the U.N. agency said.

In June, Pope Francis paid tribute to the stranded seafarers in a special video message, saying they were “not forgotten.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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