Thousands of Sailors Are Trapped at Sea. Tomorrow, They Protest

(Bloomberg) -- If you’re near the sea on Friday, you might want to have a pair of earplugs handy. At noon in ports all over the world, ships are going to sound their horns in protest at travel restrictions in place to combat the spread of Covid-19 -- measures that they say are trapping crews at sea for months on end.

There are currently 1.2 million people on ships globally, delivering food, medicine, fuel and other cargoes to keep life as normal as it can be during an era of unprecedented lockdowns. The seafarers will often spend more than six months at a time at sea, but government restrictions on movement have led to them not being allowed to leave their vessels, even when their stints should have ended.

By the middle of next month, about 150,000 seafarers will be due a break from their lives at sea but many won’t get their rest, according to new data compiled by the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Maritime Employers’ Council. The longer authorities take to react, the higher the number is going to get.

“For the past two months, crew change has all but completely stopped,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS. “This means that crew have not been able to disembark or embark ships at port and terms have had to be extended, but this is not sustainable.”

Because of government-imposed travel restrictions due to Covid-19, flights to repatriate or reposition marine personnel have been unavailable, the ICS previously said. Immigration and health screening protocols have also hampered crew changes.

The shipping industry handles over 90% of world trade, so preserving the welfare of merchant sailors is vital.

Being stuck on a ship for longer than planned is more than an inconvenience for seafarers: it’s 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.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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