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UN warned crewing crisis could involve ‘a million’ seafarers

Shipping chiefs have condemned government inaction on crew change before the UN on World Maritime Day, warning failure to act will imperil global supply chains and safety at sea

The International Chamber of Shipping, which estimates 400,000 seafarers are trapped at sea and the same number trapped on land, says the industry is at breaking point and governments must step in to solve the humanitarian crisis

THE United Nations has been told that the crewing crisis could soon affect 1m seafarers and governments must act to avert a humanitarian crisis that has the shipping industry at breaking point.

The International Chamber of Shipping estimates there are about 400,000 seafarers trapped on ships, while the same number were stuck on land waiting to relieve them, often on little or no pay.

Guy Platten, its secretary-general, said employers were doing all they could, including diverting ships thousands of miles to enable changes, but it was not enough.

“At present we estimate that 400,000 seafarers are now well beyond their original contracts with a further 400,000 ashore ready to relieve them, often waiting with little or no pay,” he told the 75th UN General Assembly High-Level Side Event on maritime crew changes.

“If this continues, we could well see a million seafarers adversely affected in the coming months. This is unsustainable.”

He said seafarers cannot extend their tours of duty indefinitely.

“The situation is unsustainable and at breaking point,” he said.

International Labour Organization director general Guy Ryder said despite industry pleas, crew changes were seen “in some quarters of government as an unacceptable threat to broader public health concerns” and “just too complicated”.

“People and governments just don’t think it matters enough,” he said.

The remarks were made on World Maritime Day during an online side event to highlight the crew change crisis at the UN General Assembly.

Shipping ministers of Canada, France, Panama, the Philippines and Kenya joined calls to class seafarers as key workers, as did representatives of A.P. Moller-Maersk and Unilever.

Captain Hedi Marzougui led a merchant ship from December to May and told the UN his crew were trapped for three months past their contracts.

His crew worked 12 hours a day with no idea when they could go home. He said the crisis “has led to despair across the world’s fleet and a feeling no one cares about us”.

“Our work at sea can be very challenging and dangerous,” he said. “Any lack of concentration, any mistake can lead to catastrophic consequences, from loss of life to severe damage to the environment.”

Capt Marzougui said mariners “are human beings first and should be treated as such”.

International Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Stephen Cotton said seafarers feared blacklisting by employers they complained, a situation “bordering on forced labour”.

“We have had great statements, but statements alone do not move seafarers on and off ships,” Mr Cotton said.

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