News Bulletin – 18 July 2020

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1. 300,000 seafarers still trapped on ships by crew change crisis.

17 July 2020 : A global summit hosted by the U.K. Government on July 9, 2020, on the impact of COVID-19 on crew changes may have gotten some headlines, but so far doesn’t seem to have done much to resolve the issue. Today, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) estimates that there are now approximately 300,000 seafarers trapped working aboard ships due to the crew change crisis, with an equal number of unemployed seafarers waiting to join their ships who are ashore. That makes 600,000 seafarers affected by this crisis.

Today marks one month since the ITF told the world’s governments that t the federation and its affiliates would be assisting the world’s seafarers in enforcing their right to stop working, get off and be repatriated to their homes and families, following completion of their contracts.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton says that in the month since July 15 there has been some positive movement, but too little progress has been made by governments to bring in the practical exemptions and protocols needed to support functioning crew changes across the world.

We put a line in the sand last month to make it clear that the ITF and our affiliates are prepared to support seafarers in exercising their right to stop working, get off, and return home to their families, once their contract has finished and it is safe to do so. In the last month, we have provided advice and assisted thousands of seafarers on how they can enforce this fundamental right,” said Cotton.

2. Extending Cruise Ban, C.D.C. Slams Industry for Spreading Coronavirus.

17 July 2020 : As the coronavirus pandemic raged around the world, cruise ship companies continued to allow their crews to attend social gatherings, work out at gyms and share buffet-style meals, violating basic protocols designed to stop the spread of the highly transmissible virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a scathing 20-page order, released Thursday, that extended the suspension of cruise operations until Sept. 30.

In a rebuke of the cruise ship companies, Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., blamed them for widespread transmission of the virus. The C.D.C. said there were 99 outbreaks aboard 123 cruise ships in United States waters alone, the agency said in the statement. From March 1 until July 10, 80 percent of the ships in the C.D.C.’s jurisdiction were affected by the coronavirus. The agency said there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed cases and 34 deaths on ships in U.S. waters.

As of July 3, nine ships still had ongoing or resolving outbreaks. The C.D.C. spent at least 38,000 hours managing the crisis, the order said. Public health authorities had to do contact tracing for some 11,000 passengers, more than the number of contacts identified from airplane flights since the beginning of the pandemic, the C.D.C. said.

3. Facilitate crew changes and support out-of-work seafarers: A renewed call to work together from welfare organisations. 

16 July 2020 : The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), and the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA), with their respective memberships of concerned shipping companies and seafarers’ ministries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, encourage governments and the maritime industry to continue to work together to facilitate crew changes for seafarers around the world. Seafarers are integral to the world economy and should be considered essential workers by all governments.

Continued need for repatriation from contracts Thousands of seafarers have told ISWAN and ICMA’s members that the continued delays in their repatriation are increasing the pressure on them and their crewmates and causing them both physical and mental exhaustion. These seafarers have been put in danger and they need to get home without delay.

Since March 2020, most seafarers’ welfare centres around the world have been closed. Though some seafarers’ centres have since reopened – following hygienic guidelines and with limited services – many ministries in the meantime have provided services to the gangway of ships only, delivering SIM cards and care packages or taking special orders for shopping. One chaplain in the Port of Montreal, Canada delivered 120 full-size bags (28+kg) of crisps to one vessel. A ship visitor in Southampton, England made a special run to the market for toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, and chocolate, as the crew had run out of these necessities in the course of their three additional months on board. In Brisbane, Australia a Catholic chaplain held mass from the dock for the crew of a ship whose captain had passed away en route from Noumea, New Caledonia.

4. WIMA Holds Workshop To Help Women Lead In Maritime Sector.

16 July 2020 : Fiji Women in Maritime Association (WIMA) is holding first strategic planning workshop on Saturday at Fiji Ports, Muaiwalu House in Walu Bay. The workshop is on recognition, visibility and capacity building. This will be Fiji WIMA’s first-ever Strategic Planning Workshop, following the successful launch of the Pacific Regional Strategy for Women in Maritime (2020-2024) in September 2019,” WIMA President Jane Koi said.

The workshop will help the women become leaders and contribute to the women in the maritime sector.” According to Ms Koi the 30 women registered with WIMA includes stakeholders apart from those in the maritime sector. We hope that the workshop will assist women to be more visible in the maritime sector since it is a man dominated field,” she said. We have a consultant that will be conducting this workshop.

There is a need for this workshop as the monitoring and reporting progress of the strategy is necessary. Whatever is implemented promotes and in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.” The WIMA is anticipated to align itself to the Pacific WIMA’s regional strategy. The Pacific WIMA’s regional strategy promotes and empowers women in the maritime community at all levels of capabilities.

5. More States need to act on crew changes, says IMO Secretary-General.

15 July 2020 : IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has urged further Member States to sign up to pledges to ensure more than 200,000 seafarers can be repatriated after months on board ship beyond their original contracts. A similar number of seafarers are waiting to join ships. Mr. Lim made the call in a circular letter issued to disseminate the pledges made by Governments in a joint statement issued following a United Kingdom convened summit on crew changes. 

Pledges in the joint statement include: designating seafarers as key workers; accepting seafarers’ ID documents as evidence of their key worker status; implementing the industry approved protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changeover; reviewing national quarantine restrictions; and increasing access, as soon as possible, to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers. 

Secretary-General Lim urged Member States to commit to the principles in the joint statement and to disseminate it widely to all parties concerned. He invited Member States wishing to sign the statement to contact the Government of the United Kingdom.

6. Indian seafarers faced with double-edged sword, NRI status in jeopardy.

15 July 2020 : An estimated 240,000 Indian seafarers employed on ships worldwide face a bleak future on several counts, not least amongst which is the prospect of making a huge payout by way of income tax. Some 40,000 of them are stuck in ports overseas, and have no way of making their way back home, due to the closing of international borders for most modes of travel.

Others joining vessels at Indian ports are being hit indirectly by the high costs of crew changes charged by unscrupulous agents. Still others are being worried about suffering collateral damage by way of losing their NRI (non-resident Indian) status as a result of a lengthy period (over 100 days) of inactivity at home during the series of lockdown measures adopted by the central or state governments since mid-March 2020, to contain the threat posed by the Coronavirus pandemic.

7. Cyprus Flag Administration Steps Up to Solve Crew Change Problems.

14 July 2020 : During the COVID-19 crisis, Cyprus’ flag registry has been deeply involved in helping shipowners to resolve the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic. In addition to providing new flexibility and financial relief for its customers, the Shipping Deputy Ministry of Cyprus has been helping the maritime community at large with the thorny problem of repatriation and crew change. In a recent exchange, The Maritime Executive spoke with outgoing Deputy Shipping Minister Natasa Pilides about her agency’s efforts to keep shipping moving.

Given the crisis and the overall difficulty of the situation, we have tried as hard as we can to avoid any disruption for our customers. I think that was achieved from the logistical side, but the impact of the downturn on some firms’ finances are unfortunately inevitable, and we are trying help with that as well.

There are several financial measures that we have put in place specifically for shipping, like an extension for the tonnage tax and the annual maintenance fee that shipowners pay to the registry. The government of Cyprus has also enacted financial support measures for all Cypriot companies, including loan interest deferrals and payroll cost support for firms affected by the COVID-19 downturn, so we’re hoping that we can provide help on the financial side as well for companies operating here.

8. SAR Teams, Good Samaritans Rescue Seven from Sunken Indonesian Vessel.

14 July 2020 : Indonesian authorities reported the successful rescue from the ocean of sailors from a sunken vessel. The vessel, the KM Ismail Jaya, reported that it had suffered a leak in its hull while sailing in the Southeast Sulawesi Province of Indonesia. At the time there were a total of seven crew members aboard the ship which was transporting logs inter-island.

As the vessel began to sink the crew was forced to abandon ship. Five of the crew members, including the captain, were recovered from the water by local fisherman but two crew members were reported missing. The Bantaeng Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) commenced a search of the area and 15 hours after going into the water two crew members were discovered clinging to floating metal fuel cans. They had been carried by the currents far from the site of the sinking. According to the rescuers the two men were both suffering from dehydration but otherwise unharmed.

9. India : Alang shipbreaking yard introduces vessel isolation for crew.

13 July 2020 : After a crew member tested positive for Covid-19 at Alang about 10 days ago, Gujarat government has changed the Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) for Covid-19 by introducing “vessel isolation” at the country’s biggest ship breaking yard, which is one of the shores that is permitting entry of foreigners in the country. Instead of the sailors being allowed to disembark, now those having Covid 19 symptoms will be isolated on board and will be paid visits by doctors.

In the last three months, about 300 of the total 500 crew members who came to Alang, riding on old ships meant to be broken and dismantled, are foreigners. Nine of the crew have tested positive so far. This includes Indians and nationals of Philippines and Poland.

The ship-breaking industry reopened on April 20, after the lockdown in Gujarat and there has been a huge influx of ships beaching on the shores for being recycled. In the 10 working days of April, four ships came to Alang. In May it rose to five and later in June, 25 ships came, which was more than the 20 ships that came during the same month in 2019. Along with these ships – that had flags of Bahamas, Hong Kong, Tanzania, St Kitts and Nevis, Liberia, Panama and Singapore – came both Indian and foreign crew who had to disembark at Alang and head back to their next destination through land routes.

10. International Labour Organization welcomes COVID-19 seafarers rights agreement.

13 July 2020 : The International Labour Organization has expressed support for new international measures to protect the rights of seafarers, stranded at sea because of the COVID-19 crisis. It welcomed a joint statement  signed by more than a dozen countries that gives seafarers enhanced rights as key workers. The new measures, also supported by other UN agencies and international organizations, enable seafarers to be repatriated and move more freely during the pandemic.

“I welcome the coordinated efforts undertaken by social partners and the international community to respond to the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the maritime sector, and call on all member States to support the implementation of this joint statement,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.
The joint statement was signed during a virtual International Maritime Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom government, which discussed the global crew change crisis that has left more than 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have been confined to vessels for months because of restrictions on international travel and measures to contain the virus. The agreement will lead to the opening of foreign borders for seafarers and to an increase in the number of commercial flights, which will speed up repatriation efforts.

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