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“The seafarers deserve our gratitude. But they also require-and deserve-quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments across the board, not only during pandemic, but always.”


Merchant Navy or Merchant Marine or Mercantile Marine are the fleets which carries vessels and are registered in the specific country. Merchant ship is technically trained part of manpower which trade by safely across the oceans by carrying cargo they handles 90 percent of global trade. Import-export business depends mostly on merchant navy, it can be called as a backbone of international trade. To ensure delivery on time the transit of goods are carefully linked to the supply Chain.

Indian Merchant Navy established before the Independence from United Kingdom. Today it is ranked 15th in the world in the terms of total dwt. India currently supplies around 12.8% of officers and around 14.5% of ratings to the world seafaring community. India has a number of well-known merchant navy firms. Some of them are Shipping Corporation of India, Essar, etc.

The world of water is used for travel and trade from the beginning of Civilization With the time the naval architecture and marine engineering, merchant ships have advanced technology which requires trained manpower for the full utilization of it and for the proper functioning.

Difficulty for seafarers to go Home

Government round the world have suspended international flights, closed borders, ports and airports and imposed travel restrictions to foreign nationals to limit the spread of novel coronavirus. These limitations have had a significant effect on seafarers' ability to move between the ships that serve as their workplace and their home country.

The very nature of international shipping makes it necessary for significant numbers of seafarers to pass by plane to and from ships monthly, as their ports of departure or arrival could also be thousands of kilometers far away from their homes. Many are flown to their departure ports to board ships on which they will reside and work for several weeks or months. Once they reach their destination, they often got to be repatriated by aircraft.

This mechanism has been plagued by COVID-related restrictions and closures. The lack of availability of economic flight has significantly reduced travel options for seafarers. Border closures mean some were unable to transit through foreign countries, or to visit airports to catch their flights home. Thousands of seafarers have been trapped on ships with little hope of being repatriated. Contract extensions have now reached a point where they can no longer do so without significant implications for the health of seafarers and, as a result, the protection of the ships they operate.

Furthermore, many seafarers are unable to return home due to the risk of not being replaced by much-needed relief crews. Seafarers are unable to travel abroad to start ships due to travel restrictions, making crew changes difficult or impossible. As a result, seafarers complain that their contracts are extended for months after they were supposed to end, causing them to stay on board instead of being reunited with their families.

Seafarers are in this situation

It is estimated that starting in mid-June 2020, as many as 3, 00,000 seafarers each month will require international flights to enable crew changeovers. About half of them (1, 50,000) will need to be repatriated home by aircraft while the other half will join ships. Additionally, around 70,000 cruise ships staff are currently expecting repatriation. On any given day, nearly one million seafarers are working on some 60,000 large cargo vessels worldwide

Importance of Crew Changes

Crew changes are vital to stop fatigue and protect seafarers’ health, safety and wellbeing – thereby ensuring the safe operation of maritime trade. They cannot be postponed indefinitely.

The duration of seafarers’ contract varies, but they typically work between four and 6 month on ships, followed by a period of leave. They often work 10- to 12-hour shifts seven days a week while at sea, performing tasks that demand continuous professional attention.

Seafarers spending extended periods on board are more in danger of adverse health effects, including physical and psychological state issues.

Thousands of stranded seafarers have also spoken out about their exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety, and mental stress. And a physically and mentally fatigued seafarer features a much higher risk of being involved during a marine casualty.

Crew changes are essential to suits international maritime regulations for safety, crew health and welfare, and employment.

ILO’s 2006 maritime labour Convention (MLC) states that the utmost continuous period that a seafarer should serve on a board a vessel without leave is 11 months. This period could also be exceeded in situations of “force Majeure”, but any extension must be accomplished by appropriate safeguards to avoid any abuse and protect seafarers’ rights. According to ILO, many thousands of seafarers are required to stay on board beyond the 11 month maximum period. In some instances, seafarers haven't been ready to head home for 15 months.

Situation regarding access to medical care for seafarers

There are several cases of seafarers being denied permission to travel ashore to receive medical aid , despite presenting medical issues that were urgent but not associated with COVID-19.

For example, a 45-year-old Russian seafarer suffering from a stroke was initially denied permission to enter a far-flung port in order to obtain life-saving care. The medical evacuation was finally authorized after UN agencies stepped in.

Examples like this create significant concerns for seafarers, who worry they'll not get the medical aid they have just in case they become ill, from COVID-19 or from other diseases. Furthermore, many seafarers face significant difficulties in securing repeat prescriptions for the medications they take.

Under ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), port states must make sure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who need immediate medical aid are given access to medical facilities on shore. According to the ILO, the extraordinary steps taken by certain governments to combat the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be used as a justification for not complying with this international duty.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

It is the specialized agency administers by United Nations for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. IMO's work upholds the UN SDGs.

It has established a Seafarer Crisis Action Team to monitor improvements, coordinate endeavors, communicate with all relevant stakeholders and give targeted support in individual cases and particularly pressing situations.

This dedicated team often works alongside different organizations like the International Labor Organization (ILO), the international Chamber of shipping (ICS). Since the start of the emergency, this team has been working around the clock to discover solution-reassuring seafarers that contact IMO straightforwardly, contacting representatives from national governments, NGOs, trade unions or relevant associations, or arranging seafarers towards the correct organization.

IMO's quick intervention has made a distinction for seafarers around the globe. For example, the seafarer Crisis Action Team helped a critically-sick seafarer get pressing medical care and facilitated the repatriation of others.

Besides, IMO has repeatedly urged governments to designate seafarers as key workers and to exempt them from travel restrictions. It has also issued a number of circular letters providing guidance and key information on issues such as ensuring safe ship crew changes (CL.4204/Add.14), personal protective equipment (CL.4024/Add.15), seafarers certificates (CL.4204/Add.19) and ensuring a safe shipboard interface between ship and shore-based personnel (CL.4204/Add.16).

Governments can do

IMO and different organizations have repeatedly urged governments to designate as "Key Workers" seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel and specialist co-op personnel at ports, regardless of nationality.

Governments are urged to furnish these personnel with the necessary help, such as exemptions from national travel or development restrictions, to allow them to join or leave ships and to transit through national territories (for example to an airport) for repatriation.

They should also guarantee these personnel have access to crisis medical treatment and, if necessary, facilitate crisis repatriation.

Government and national authorities ought to guarantee that all visiting merchant ships continue to have access to billets in port and terminals and do all that could be within reach to allow crew changes to happen.

They are strongly encouraged to execute a progression of protocols, which set our general measures and strategies intended to guarantee that ship crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic-and share them broadly with the relevant national authorities. Personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID-10 testing, temperature checking, and plans for dedicated lanes at airports are also covered by the protocols. They were planned by a board cross-section of global industry associations and embraced by IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim in May.

Importance of designation of the keyworker

Keyworker assignment will guarantee that sailors are excluded from movement limitation and can head out to and from ships-a critical component in permitting team changes to occur.

Group changes are not just fundamental for the wellbeing and prosperity of sailors themselves, however they are likewise crucial to guarantee business boats can keep on conveying fundamental products securely and without superfluous interferences.

Transportation conveys over 80% of the worldwide exchange by volume. Ocean transport moves the world's food, energy and crude materials, just as produced products – including drugs and clinical supplies that are imperative in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The keyworker assignment will guarantee that the exchange of fundamental products, including clinical supplies and food, isn't hampered by the pandemic and the related regulation measures.

Keyworker Designation also apply to seafarers on board cruise ships

IMO's calls for sailors to be assigned as key specialists incorporate voyage ships team. All sailors and marine individual are viewed as fundamental specialists by IMO, paying little heed to the kind of boat they work on. IMO urges governments and public specialists to guarantee sailors chipping away at journey ships are qualified for similar exceptions as other fundamental laborer, like consents for travel and travel.

Voyage ships have confronted specific difficulties, with a lot bigger quantities of individuals ready (the two sailors and travelers) contrasted with payload ships. They may have a great many travelers and group, while even the greatest load boats may just have approximately 20 team ready.

Most voyage lines halted sailings because of the COVID-19 pandemic and have since been attempting to land and localize their travelers and group. Be that as it may, to do this requires coordinated effort and collaboration between journey lines, governments and others-which is actually the thing IMO has been calling for.

Countries have designated seafarers as Key workers

Numerous IMO part states and partner individuals have sent interchanges to IMO in which they explicitly notice sailors as key laborers or offered remarks to show so.

IMO spreads such correspondences through roundabout letters which are accessible on the IMO site.

As of mid-June 2020, these are: Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong (China), Islamic republic of Iran, Japan, Liberia, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

Be that as it may, the circumstance stays complex and challenges are as yet detailed. Now and again, the key laborer assignment may just apply to nationals of a specific country limitations actually apply to sailors from different nations leaving unfamiliar group unfit to travel through that country for bringing home.

A lot more nations may have assigned sailors as key laborers without detailing it to IMO. IMO is empowered by the expanding of nations that have assigned sailors as key laborers and welcomes more part states to follow their example.

Crew changes and repatriation can take place safely

IMO has supported a bunch of bit by bit conventions which set out broad measures and methodology intended to guarantee that team changes can happen securely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These conventions have been drawn up by a wide cross-segment of worldwide industry affiliations addressing different areas of the oceanic vehicle industry. The conventions counsel on safe techniques for joining ships just as leaving boats and bringing home. They cover everything from arrangements of individual defensive gear (PPE), COVID-19 testing, social separating, and cleanliness safety measures, temperature checking, transitory convenience and recommendations for assigned paths at air terminals for sailors, to give some examples.

They incorporate necessities for delivery organizations and suggestions to governments, sea organizations and other applicable public specialists like wellbeing, customs, movement, line control. Seaport and common avionics specialists.

What does international law say about seafarers' right to repatriation?

Seafarers have the right to be repatriated at the end of their contracts, according to Regulation 2.5 of the ILO's Maritime Labor Convention (MLC).

Under the MLC, flag states have a responsibility towards the proper of seafarers to be repatriated and port states have an obligations to facilitate such repatriation also because the replacement of seafarers.

ILO has indicated that these obligations must be respected during the pandemic without prejudice for the need to take measures to prevent contagion.

ILO’s 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) states that the utmost continuous period a seafarer should serve on board a vessel without leave is 11 months. This period could also be exceeded in situations of “force majeure”, but any extension must be amid appropriate safeguards to avoid any abuse and protect seafarers’ rights.

Thousands of seafarers have been forced to stay on board for longer than the maximum 11-month duration, according to the International Labor Organization. Seafarers have taken up to 15 months to return home in some cases.

“Seafarers are delivering for us. It is time for us to deliver for them.”




Student, Amity Law School, Amity University, Noida

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