More than 300 top shipping, mining and trading companies say they plan to work together to help hundreds of thousands of merchant sailors stuck on ships for many months due to COVID-19 in a crisis that risks creating more dangers at sea.
About 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea and coronavirus restrictions in many jurisdictions are affecting supply chains.
In December the UN General Assembly urged all countries to designate seafarers and other maritime personnel as key workers. Nevertheless, ship crews are still struggling to swap over with colleagues on land.
Shipping industry officials say many sailors are at breaking point and many have been at sea for longer than an 11-month limit laid out in a maritime labour convention.
The companies, which include shipping groups such as AP Moller Maersk, miners Anglo American and Rio Tinto, oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell as well as trading companies Cargill, Trafigura and Vitol will boost information-sharing as signatories of the “Neptune Declaration” initiative.
‘Duty of care’
“All of us have a duty of care to seafarers,” said Kit Kernon, the global head of shipping at Vitol. “Their wellbeing is essential to safe and efficient operations.”
Being stuck on a ship for longer than planned is more than an inconvenience for seafarers: it is a risk to their safety and mental wellbeing. Taking care of cargoes worth millions of dollars can be a stressful job and crew often dread having their contracts extended.
Dumping a vessel can create a nightmare of logistics, environmental hazards and human suffering and yet, owners – people at the core of an industry that touches almost everything in global supply chains – are rarely held to account. Last year, cases of abandoned ships were up nearly 90 percent by even the most conservative accounting, according to the Bloomberg news agency.
Key worker status
Signatories to the initiative will also increase collaboration between shipping operators and charterers to speed up crew changes while also calling for key worker status for mariners.
“We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis at sea,” said Jeremy Nixon, the chief executive of shipping group ONE. “They have become hostage of the situation and unable to disembark from their ships.”
Sven Boss-Walker, the senior vice president of shipping at BP, said the “remote nature of their roles meant their contributions are often out of sight and out of mind”.
“It is critical that the industry comes together to provide a collaborative response,” Ashley Howard at Rio Tinto added.