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Prayers urged for 300,000 seafarers stranded owing to Covid-19 travel restrictions

25 September 2020

mission to seafarers

Crew members stuck in port in Rotterdam with a gift bag from the Mission to Seafarers, in March

Crew members stuck in port in Rotterdam with a gift bag from the Mission to Seafarers, in March

THE Liverpool Seafarers Centre has urged churchgoers to continue to pray for seafarers who are still stranded on open water owing to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The Mission to Seafarers reports that more than 300,000 seafarers and marine personnel are currently stuck on ships and unable to be repatriated, despite the expiry of their contracts.

A similar number of seafarers have been unable to join ships and relieve their colleagues owing to restrictions imposed by multiple governments in the wake of the pandemic. This includes restrictions on travel, embarkation and disembarkation in ports, quarantine measures, reductions in available flights, and limits on the issuing of visas and passports.

The secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, Kitack Lim, has called on governments to take swift action to resolve the crew-change crisis. In a statement released earlier this month before the UN General Assembly, he said that urgent action was needed to protect the health and well-being of seafarers, and to ensure the safety of shipping.

“Seafarers cannot remain at sea indefinitely. If the crew-change crisis is not resolved soon, ships will no longer be able to operate safely pursuant to the Organization’s regulations and guidelines, further exacerbating the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Seafarers should be designated as key workers, Mr Lim said. UN protocols should be implemented to allow safe crew changes; and restrictions on flights, travel, and medical care should be removed.

Responding to the calls, the chief executive of the Liverpool Seafarers Centre, John Wilson, urged churchgoers to pray for all those who make a living from the sea, and to lobby their MP to act to abate the crisis.

The response to getting seafarers home had been too slow, he said. While 13 out of 15 countries had agreed earlier this year to end travel restrictions and allow exemptions for crew changes, months later most had not moved to have in place immigration, travel, or health procedures that would facilitate the transfer of crew members.

“We are now six months into the pandemic with no end in sight for the thousands of seafarers trapped on board ships long beyond the time their contracts should have ended,” he said. “Those workers that we have visited from Liverpool Seafarers Centre describe feeling forgotten and abandoned. They are missing their families and their home life, and the isolation they feel from living in cramped ship conditions for such a lengthy period is impacting on their mental health.

“We also need to appreciate the detrimental effect this situation has on the families around the world who are going through this challenging time without their loved ones. For those unable to get to work, there is the added blow of being unable to earn money, which will prove difficult in these troubling times. . .

“We are calling on governments to do what they said they would and help these vital workers return home.”

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