WMU Contributes to Information Session on UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2020

On 7 December, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), participated as a panel expert for the Information Session on the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Review of Maritime Transport 2020. The Review provides an update on the latest trends in maritime trade, supply, markets, key performance indicators, and legal and regulatory developments. The Information Session addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the global interdependence of nations and set in motion new trends that will reshape the maritime transport landscape. 

Dr Doumbia-Henry underscored that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, still today more than 300,000 seafarers have still not been able to return home to their families and for crew change to take place at the end of their contractual terms. Many countries still prohibit seafarers from disembarking from ships that would enable them to transit and transfer through ports and airports to return home to the families. “A serious crew change crisis has now been with us for over 10 months giving rise to a serious humanitarian crisis for seafarers and which also threatens the safety of navigation and world trade,” she said.

In the context of the evolving coronavirus outbreak, Dr Doumbia-Henry emphasized that the effective protection of the health and safety of seafarers must be a priority. Under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 as amended, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and safety and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board. She noted that the Convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore. “Not enough progress has been made to address these issues,” she said.

Dr Doumbia-Henry highlighted the importance of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution adopted on 1 December 2020, titled “International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic to support global supply chains.” The General Assembly noted that approximately two million seafarers are working on a fleet of more than 98,000 commercial ships, transporting more than 11 billion tons of seaborne trade in 2019. The resolution also noted that the challenging labour conditions of seafarers and fishers have been further exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related response measures, including personal safety and health, conditions of work and the ability of seafarers and fishers to join and leave vessels, the inability of vessel operators and owners to change crews, in addition to other social and economic hardships arising from COVID-19. She also referred to the importance of the Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention, 2003 (No.185) as amended, which allows seafarers which allows seafarers to travel without a visa to join their ships and to disembark in ports. 

Following on from the IMO’s designation of seafarers as “key workers”, reinforcement came from the General Assembly of the United Nations which in a Resolution it adopted urged Member States to designate the world’s seafarers and other maritime personnel as “key workers” in the context of the COVID‑19 pandemic. It called upon Governments to promptly take steps to facilitate maritime crew changes, including by expediting travel and repatriation efforts and ensuring access to medical care. It also encouraged Governments and relevant stakeholders to implement protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the pandemic as approved by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee. This would allow stranded seafarers to return to their home countries and permit their replacements to join their ships.

The UNCTAD 2020 Review of Maritime Transport includes a special chapter with testimonials from maritime stakeholders and their experiences in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. It calls for the designation of seafarers and other marine personnel, regardless of nationality, as “key workers”, and exempting them from travel restrictions. 

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