ILO Governing Body calls for urgent action on seafarer COVID-19 crisis

The Governing Body  of the International Labour Organization has taken the exceptional action of adopting a Resolution to address the dire situation of seafarers trapped at sea because of the COVID-19 pandemic .

“The problems faced by seafarers resulting from efforts to contain the virus have lasted unacceptably long”, said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder. “These key workers continue to transport the food, medicines and goods that we need, but their extended periods at sea, and the inability of seafarers ashore to relieve them, are simply unsustainable. The Resolution sets out the actions to be taken urgently.”

The Resolution concerning Maritime labour and the COVID-19 pandemic  acknowledges the considerable social dialogue that has occurred and actions that have been taken by key shipowner and seafarer organizations and some governments to address the crisis. It notes that, despite numerous appeals and actions through the United Nations system, hundreds of thousands of seafarers continue to work well beyond usual periods of service at sea, with some now on board for 17 months and longer.

It refers to the “immense risk that seafarer fatigue represents for the physical and mental health of individual seafarers and for the safety of navigation, security and the protection of the marine environment.”

The Resolution also recalls that the rights of seafarers are set out in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006  (MLC, 2006), including the right to repatriation and to access medical care ashore. States which have ratified the Convention are to prescribe the maximum duration of service periods on board, with such periods to be less than 12 months.

The fishing sector, it notes, faces similar challenges. It recalls that the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188)  contains provisions regarding repatriation and medical care with respect to fishers. The Resolution urges ILO Member States to:

  • Identify obstacles to crew changes, and to establish and implement measurable, time-bound plans to ensure safe crew change and travel of seafarers, taking into account the existing Recommended Framework of Protocols  for crew change and any subsequent revisions;
  • Designate seafarers as “key workers”, for the purpose of facilitation of safe and unhindered movement for embarking or disembarking a vessel, and of shore leave;
  • Consider the acceptance of internationally recognized documentation carried by seafarers;
  • Ensure that seafarers who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities ashore, emergency medical treatment regardless of nationality and, where necessary, emergency repatriation;
  • Consider temporary measures including waivers, exemptions or other changes to visa or documentary requirements.

ILO Member States that have ratified the MLC, 2006, are called on to adopt measures to fully implement it during the pandemic, in coordination with relevant ministries and agencies, in cooperation with other ratifying Member States, and in consultation with social partners.

Enterprises are called upon to carry out due diligence in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how they address their actual and potential human rights impact on seafarers resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Resolution also calls on the ILO secretariat to report on coordinated action taken by United Nations organizations and the social partners to follow-up on the Resolution.

It comes just a few days after the UN General Assembly adopted a complementary resolution on ‘International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains’.