Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has significant impacts on the shipping industry and on seafarers themselves, and IMO is working tirelessly at all levels to find solutions.

Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers, which has led to a growing humanitarian crisis as well as significant concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping. IMO has intervened promptly by urging its Member States to designate seafarers as key workers, so they can travel between the ships that constitute their workplace, and their countries of residence.

Click to download the protocols, which set out general measures and procedures designed to ensure that ship crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here for a comprehensive FAQ about crew changes and repatriation of seafarers.

Seafarers have been collateral victims of the crisis, as travel restrictions have left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. IMO has established a Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) to help them out of a variety of critical situations. 

IMO is also running a series of regional webinars to discuss and develop best practices aimed at addressing the current challenges seafarers are facing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Key worker designation

For the latest list, please click Circular Letter No.4204/Add.35/Rev.- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Designation of seafarers as key workers

Click here to find out more about the work achieved by the Organization to support seafarers around the globe.

IMO has published a number of press briefings on key issues related to the pandemic, including crew changes, repatriation of seafarers and meetings postponement: click here for the full list of press briefings.

Seafarer vaccination

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named seafarers as one of the groups of transportation workers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination in instances of limited supplies. The updated guidance (Juy 2021) for Stage II of its vaccine roadmap from the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) states: "Seafarers and air crews who work on vessels that carry goods and no passengers, with special attention to seafarers who are stranded at sea and prevented from crossing international borders for crew change due to travel restrictions." Download WHO SAGE Roadmap for prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines here.

Information on vaccines for seafarers is provided by ICMA here and by NAMMA here

IMO Secretary-General statements

UN Secretary-General statements on seafarers and COVID

  • UN Secretary-General's message on World Maritime Day (24 September 2020)
  • Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General on the repatriation of seafarers (12 June 2020)

Advice for IMO Member States, seafarers and shipping

IMO has issued the following circular letters:

(Please note: Circular Letters can also be downloaded in official languages from IMODOCS (requires registration))