S&B VIEWPOINT: Seafarers Crisis Risks Poisoning Shipping's Relationship With Regulators

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Wednesday June 24, 2020

Shipping's ongoing crisis of what to do with seafarers during coronavirus restrictions is not just an HR issue for the industry.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are currently stuck at sea with little sign of relief in sight, working much longer than their contracts would normally allow and in some cases facing worsening mental health problems.

Medical care and shore leave has also been restricted.

The International Chamber of Shipping has called the situation "simply not acceptable."

While the shipping industry itself is doing what it can to alleviate the situation, the problem is largely on land; COVID-19 lockdown measures and the failure to designate seafarers as key workers are preventing them from returning home, and leaving port authorities unwilling to accommodate crew changes.

The international nature of this situation makes it a highly complicated problem to unravel, and some governments have been working to resolve it.

The International Maritime Organization has written to member states asking them to recognise seafarers as key workers as a means of allowing crew changes and repatriation.

But setting about that task with a greater sense of urgency would help develop a better relationship with the shipping industry.

In the other direction, governments have handed the shipping industry its own seemingly intractable problem in recent years: cutting its carbon footprint, with little in the way of firm instruction about how to go about it or guarantees that the solutions it invests in will be deemed acceptable in the years to come. 

If regulators want the industry to take the decarbonisation agenda seriously despite its likely high cost and lack of incentives so far, gaining some goodwill from the shipping community by solving the seafarers crisis would be a good start.