Comprehensive action to address seafarers’ challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic – A pragmatic approach to human rights at sea

20 September 2022


The COVID-19 pandemic posed severe challenges for flag states, port authorities, shipping- and crewing companies. Crew changes were severely hindered since international shipping and Governments were unable to facilitate crew changes and unable to respond effectively to these challenges. Restrictions and delays of crew changes and repatriation, including the measures implemented by countries, brought serious operational consequences, and caused a humanitarian crisis at sea.

Consequently, mariners and seafarers faced the risk of extreme fatigue, physical and mental health crises, increasing the risk of maritime casualties that include collisions, allisions and groundings. Maritime labour rights and basic human rights could not be secured and protected. Without humans, ships cannot move goods or provide services. Thus, the crew change crisis highlighted a severe risk for our global supply chain.

In February 2022, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), UNCTAD and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments, the shipping industry and other stakeholders to scale up efforts to safeguard seafarer health and safety to avoid supply chain disruptions during the ongoing pandemic.

Many seafarers today, are still

  • forced to remain working onboard vessels beyond the expiry of their contract
  • unable to go on shore to receive medical treatment or travel freely
  • abandoned by their employers and left isolated on board ships without help or support
  • not given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • not considered to be ‘key workers’

The severe risk for human wellbeing and risks for the global supply chains require further action from all parties concerned worldwide.

Current mandates of UN organizations do not go beyond urging member states to follow UN Resolutions. A holistic approach is needed to ensure that all parties within the maritime industry take action, further pushing UN objective, furthering the mandate of the International Maritime Organization.

“Honor the Mariner”

The people working at the Center for Ocean Policy and Economics (COPE°), The Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration and Northeast Maritime Institute stand firmly in support of the ‘human element’ – what they feel is the most important element of global maritime trade. The purpose and mission of these companies is to provide services to seafarers through a humanitarian approach, providing the opportunity to improve careers and livelihoods.

Reducing the Negative Impact of Seafarers’ Physical Health, Welfare and Well-Being Using COPE° and NEMO°

The Center for Ocean Policy and Economics (COPE°) links academic, corporate, non-governmental, and governmental partners to create impactful solutions. COPE° enables people to work on driving necessary change in the maritime sector, with ethical and humanitarian values guiding those efforts. COPE° is able to facilitate opportunities for change and drive ocean policy and economic development project initiatives to create impactful solutions.

Northeast Maritime Institute offers seafarers the opportunity to be educated, certified, and licensed though online education, simulation and examination tools called NEMO° and HALO°. By providing seafarers globally with these tools and support, NEMO° helps to improve their physical health, welfare and well-being. NEMO° is currently developing online tools to improve the physical health, welfare, and well-being of seafarers, at no additional expense. These tools will create an opportunity for maritime health professionals to offer their services online and globally. This unconditional support will not only benefit people but will also allow for greater operational safety and mental health.

The Commitment of The Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration to Seafarers

The Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration has a strong commitment to serving the seafaring community as a whole. In December 2021, the IMO Assembly adopted Resolution A 32/Res.1160 on “Comprehensive action to address seafarers’ challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This Resolution contains solutions that pertain to ensuring maritime safety, security and environmental protection by reducing the negative impact on seafarersʹ physical health, welfare and well-being.

The initiative of this Resolution started with an Op-Ed article written by Eric R. Dawicki. It resulted in a whitepaper from The Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration, submitted to the 103rd session of the Maritime Safety Committee in May 2021. The paper proposed a five-part commitment to seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate crew changes and repatriation. The Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration presented this document in plenary and received support from other Member States and Organizations during MSC103. Consequently, an Assembly Resolution was drafted and reviewed as a collaborative effort together with the Secretariat and two other IMO Member States.

To emphasize and highlight the need for the urgent objectives set out in the draft Assembly Resolution, Dominica also gathered a total of nine Non-Governmental Organizations to co-sponsor a support paper for submission at MSC104. This paper created a louder voice for the individuals that these NGO’s represent: people who are working in the maritime sector and at sea.

The Dominica delegation also raised the issue during the plenary session of the ILO Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended (MLC, 2006) in April 2021. And took part on drafting the ILO Resolution concerning the implementation and practical application of the MLC, 2006, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Resolution concerning COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers. Both ILO Resolutions were adopted during that session of the Committee.

Meanwhile, the draft IMO Assembly resolution was submitted to MSC104 by the IMO Secretariat and reviewed by the Committee for submission to Assembly 32. The IMO Resolution was agreed upon unanimously by all IMO Member States. In December 2021, Resolution A32/Res.1160 was adopted by IMO Assembly.

Resolution A 32/Res.1160 urges Member States and relevant national authorities to:

  1. designate seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ in order to facilitate shore leave and safe and unhindered movement across borders, recognizing relevant documentation carried by seafarers as evidence of this status, which would entail the application of temporary measures including (where possible under relevant law) waivers, exemptions or other relaxations from any visa or documentary requirements;
  2. consider the implementation of the Industry recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (MSC.1/Circ.1636/Rev.1, as may be revised);
  3. prioritize vaccination of seafarers, as far as practicable, in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, noting the advice of the WHO SAGE Roadmap4 for prioritizing the use of COVID-19 vaccines; and consider extending COVID-19 vaccines to seafarers of other nationalities, taking into account national vaccines supply;
  4. consider exempting seafarers from any national policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry, taking into account that seafarers should be designated as ʺkey workersʺ and that they travel across borders frequently;
  5. provide seafarers with immediate access to medical care and facilitate medical evacuation of seafarers in need of urgent medical attention when the required medical care cannot be provided either on board or in the port of call.

All IMO Member States and international organizations are urged to bring this resolution to the attention of all parties concerned.

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