COVID-19 and Maritime Crew Changes: A humanitarian, safety, and economic crisis
World Maritime Day - 24 September 2020
Event on the margins of the UN General Assembly High Level Week
Remarks by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim
Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I thank Captain Marzougui for sharing his experiences. As a former seafarer myself, this truly resonates, at a personal level for me.
In these unprecedented times, it is, crucially important to ensure the functioning of the global supply chains and the facilitation of the safe operation of maritime trade which moves over 80% of global trade.
For this we must thank the more than one million seafarers operating the world's merchant ships. Their dedication and professionalism in these challenging times is worthy of our great admiration and thanks.
For more than six decades, the International Maritime Organization has been developing a comprehensive framework of international standards to ensure the safety of life at sea.
And yet, today, we see the fundamentals on which IMO standards are based balancing on a fragile knife edge. Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue to operate ships. Many of these seafarers have already spent more than a year at sea, well beyond their original contracts, without a proper rest and far away from their loved ones.
Every single Government would agree that seafarers are crucial for the safe operation of ships, and therefore the protection of the fragile marine environment. Safe navigation and safe shipping safeguards maritime trade, which is vital to the world's economy.
We have issued protocols to facilitate crew changes, but still more than 400,000 seafarers remain trapped at sea. On more than 60,000 cargo ships which continue to deliver vital goods, foods and medicines, ship safety is hanging in the balance, just as seafarers' lives are being made impossible. The safety of navigation is in peril.
We need cooperation and commitment from all Member States, to recognize seafarers as key workers, exempting them from travel restrictions, and implement the recommended framework of protocols for safe crew changes to find ways to get seafarers off and onto ships.
Improvements in maritime safety through the decades have been built on an appreciation of the critical role of seafarers.
The humanitarian crisis seafarers face has implications for all of us. Today, we must all ask ourselves, what will it take to resolve the crew change crisis?
I have spoken many times of our "voyage together". Never has the spirit of cooperation and collaboration been more important than it is today.
Action is needed – and is needed now! We all depend on seafarers. They should not be the collateral victims in this pandemic. Seafarers deliver for us - and now we need to deliver for them.