A special International Labor Organization (“ILO”) tripartite maritime committee has issued a statement identifying seafarers as “key workers”, and that they be exempted from COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The Special Tripartite Committee, which represents seafarers, shipowners and governments, also called on ILO Member States to do all that they can to facilitate the delivery of supplies, including essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions to ships.
The ILO’s statement is in response to reports that, in some parts of the world, suppliers have been prevented from boarding ships to provide masks, overalls and other personal protective equipment (“PPE”) to crewmembers. Some ports also have refused to allow some ships to enter, after they previously docked in areas affected by COVID-19. These actions have preventing vessels from obtaining essential supplies.
“Seafarers are just as worthy as everyone else, and should be treated with dignity and respect to ensure that they can continue to provide their vital services to the world,” the statement said.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has asked governments to ensure that seafarers’ rights are protected by providing adequate medical care and protection from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as permitting them to travel, as necessary. ILO’s Maritime Labor Convention (“MLC”), which passed in 2006, defines these rights by setting minimum requirements for almost all aspects of working conditions for seafarers, including: conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, repatriation, shore leave, accommodation facilities, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, plus welfare and social security protection. The MLC and has been ratified by more than 91 percent of the world‘ s merchant shipping fleet.
The ILO is not the only organization to call for these protections for seafarers. The International Maritime Organization (“IMO”), a United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of international shipping, also called for “key worker” exemptions for crew changes and repatriations in a recently published circular letter. Specifically, IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6 recommends that professional seafarers and marine personnel be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions, to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory, to allow ship crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
In the IMO Circular Letter, Lim also referred to the G20 Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19, held on March 26th, during which the G20 leaders pledged to work to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services across borders, and to work to resolve disruptions to the global supply chains, all to support the health and well-being of all people.
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