As the impact of the coronavirus disease keeps nations on their knees, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the International Maritime Organisation have said that the world’s reliance on maritime transport makes it more important than ever to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, as well as to support ship crew change-overs.
The United Nations maritime and trade bodies in a joint statement published on June 9, 2020 called on governments to work together to facilitate crew change-over and remove unnecessary regulatory obstacles to maritime transport during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
UNCTAD and IMO reiterated calls for governments to promote crew well-being by allowing crew changes and ensuring seafarers and other maritime personnel access to documentation and travel options, so they could return home safely.
Maritime transport depends on the two million seafarers who operate the world’s merchant ships that carry more than 80 percent of global trade by volume, including most of the world’s food, energy, raw materials and manufactured goods, the UN trade bodies noted.
“Crew change-overs are essential for the continuity of shipping in a safe and sustainable manner. It’s estimated that starting in mid-June 2020, as many as 300,000 seafarers a month will require international flights to enable ships’ crew change-over. About half will travel home by aircraft for repatriation, while the other half will join ships. And approximately 70,000 cruise ship staff are waiting for their repatriation.
“This process is currently hampered by travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But to comply with international safety and employment regulations – and for humanitarian reasons – crew changes can’t be postponed indefinitely. Access to medical care for sick or injured crew and to medical prescriptions must also be provided,” the statement added.
UNCTAD and IMO also reaffirmed the urgent need for “key worker” designation for seafarers, personnel, fishing vessel, offshore energy sector and service personnel at ports.
“Governments and relevant national and local authorities must recognise that these workers provide essential services, regardless of their nationality, and should thus exempt them from travel restrictions when in their jurisdiction.
“Such designation will ensure that the trade in essential goods, including medical supplies and food, is not hampered by the pandemic and the associated containment measures.
“We emphasise that, for trade to continue during these critical times, there is a need to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, while at the same time ensuring that border agencies can safely undertake all necessary controls. International collaboration, coordination and solidarity among all is going to be key to overcoming the unprecedented global challenge posed by the pandemic and its longer-term repercussions,” it added.
Looking beyond the current situation, UNCTAD and IMO urged governments to pursue collaborative efforts to identify and remove any unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery and to facilitate maritime transport and trade in these difficult times.
They encouraged pragmatic approaches, such as granting exemptions and waivers where necessary and appropriate. ‘Efforts should be made to facilitate electronic means for ship-shore, administrative and commercial interactions. There should be effective sharing of pre-arrival information and other COVID-19-related reporting requirements for ships, as well as the provision of adequate equipment and resources to customs and border control stations in ports.”
The statement highlighted that “in the longer term, some of the measures to confront the coronavirus crisis may offer other important benefits, such as encouraging further investment in digitisation and advancing efforts to improve ships’ energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.”
A recent UNCTAD policy brief outlined a 10-point action plan to help the shipping industry keep trade afloat amid the COVID-19 crisis.