Fight to recognise merchant seafarers' role in COVID-19 crisis

Tue 24 Mar 2020
Posted by: Ana Pintor
Trade News

The role of seafarers during the COVID-19 crisis has come to the fore in the UK and globally, as unions and shipowner trade bodies call for their status to be recognised in the fight against the pandemic.

Seafarers in the UK were indirectly referenced in the government’s list of key workers, published last week, under the ‘Transport’ category.

Now, the UK Chamber of Shipping, together with seafaring unions, are calling on government to protect the interests of national seafarers as a “vital” resource to keep the country trading during the crisis, as ferry passenger numbers collapse.

‘Key logistical role’

“Our members must be empowered by government, urgently, to perform the shipping industry's key logistical role in keeping the UK supplied with the food, medicine, fuel and equipment required to sustain people and businesses,” said the statement by Nautilus International, RMT (Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) and the UK Chamber.

In particular, the bodies are calling for a support package for seafarers and businesses affected.

General secretary of global trade union Nautilus International, Mark Dickinson, expressed relief that shipping and seafarers were not being ignored. 

“We are part of a movement that’s turned it around and now seafarers are top of the agenda, and our members’ contribution is being recognised as critical to keeping trade moving,” he said.

Worldwide push

At a global level, the United Nations has been approached by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), calling for world governments to ensure ports remain open, while facilitating crew changes with as few obstacles as possible.

Specifically, they are seeking “appropriate exemptions” for professional merchant seafarers “from any national travel restrictions when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning”.

Meanwhile the UK government has issued specific advice to seafarers during the COVID-19 crisis – see here.

The Scottish Government has designated some staff working for Caledonian ferry company CalMac as ‘key workers’ under its newly published Key Workers guidance.