Building Commercial Seafarer Resilience Is The Need Of The Hour !

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Credit: timelab-pro-unsplash

Commercial seafarers might be the workforce that people rely on the most but think about the least. The vast majority of goods traded around the world are transported on ships. Capitalism wouldn’t work without the almost 2 million people who work on them. But it seems to take a lot for them to get noticed.

Pandemic Blues

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, more than 300,000 commercial seafarers were left stranded on their ships well past the expiry of their contracts, because virus control measures and travel restrictions prevented crews from being rotated. Part of the problem then was the length of time it took many countries to classify them as “key workers” in spite of the fact that their work was, quite clearly, key.

They have been caught up in the war in Ukraine too: according to the International Chamber of Shipping, 331 seafarers have been stuck on 62 ships trapped in Ukrainian ports since the war began a year ago.  But it doesn’t always take a global crisis for seafarers to end up adrift. Sometimes shipowners just abandon them, maybe after they have underestimated the cost of running a voyage, or when they realize a ship needs investment and it would be less costly just to walk away.

Multiple Issues

It’s not always possible for seafarers to leave an abandoned ship. They might not have a visa to enter a country, or the local authorities might say they have to stay on board to keep the ship safe. Even if they can leave, many don’t want to walk away empty-handed because they are owed money their families have been counting on. In one recent case, a Syrian seafarer called Mohammed Aisha was trapped on an abandoned cargo ship in Egypt for four years after a local court declared him the ship’s legal guardian. He had to swim to shore every few days to charge his phone.

Abandonments are relatively rare but they seem to be on the rise. Between 2006 and 2016, there were typically between 10 and 25 official abandonments reported each year, according to the International Labour Organisation’s database. There has been some progress made in helping seafarers more effectively when they are abandoned. A new international rule in 2017 required ships to have insurance against abandonment, which pays out to cover the cost of seafarers’ wages and repatriation. 

But outside the industry, who knows it goes on at all? “Shipping is just so unlike any other industry in [terms of] what’s tolerated,” says Stephen Cotton, the ITF’s general secretary. “If you were trapped at work for days or weeks chained to a desk, there would be outrage, so why do we let it go on in vessels?” Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023.

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Source: Irishtimes

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