UN urges countries to designate ship crews as ‘key workers’


TANZANIA, Tanzania – With the coronavirus pandemic stranding nearly 400,000 merchant seamen at sea, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Tuesday urging all nations to designate those working on ships as “key workers,” which would ease their travel.

The resolution adopted by consensus in the 193-member world body stresses the very difficult conditions that seafarers face at sea, which have been exacerbated by pandemic restrictions that have impeded crew changes and repatriation of sailors to their home countries.

Indonesian Ambassador DianTriansyah Djani, who sponsored the resolution, said the world largely pays little heed to the work of 2 million seafarers “who have shown their dedication and professionalism during this crisis, ensuring that world trade and logistics continue to move properly.”

Djani said travel restrictions imposed by countries as a result of the pandemic “have generated difficulties for crew changes, and prevent the seafarers from embarkation and disembarkation,” resulting in hundreds of thousands stranded at sea.

Designating seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers” would ease their plight, he said.

The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, estimates nearly 400,000 sailors are stuck at sea because of the pandemic, many for more than a year and some for up to 17 months.

The resolution calls on all governments to implement measures to facilitate crew changes and travel and repatriation for seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key workers

Guy Platten, president of shipping trade group, said 44 countries currently classify seafarers as “key workers” but the vast majority do not.

“Clearly there is much more to be done,” Platten said.

The resolution says the situation of stranded seafarers also requires a “concrete response” from the private sector. It notes approximately 2 million seafarers work on more than 98,000 commercial vessels that transported more than 11 billion tons of goods and material in 2019.

“Shipping has continued to transport more than 80 percent of world trade essential to the normal functioning of society, including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the COVID-19 response and recovery,” the resolution says.