​SRI Conference on Future proofing the MLC - Special protection for seafarers – key worker status and fair treatment

SRI Conference on Future proofing the MLC

Special protection for seafarers – key worker status and fair treatment

16 September 2021

IMO Headquarters, London

Speech by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General, IMO

Minister, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

This year's Day of the Seafarer campaign on 25 June called for a "fair future for seafarers", reflecting the overall World Maritime theme for this year "Seafarers at the core of shipping's future".

The results of the polls we conducted leading up to the day make for insightful reading.

Seafarers told us they are excited about their careers, training, and new technology.

However, they told us by a vast majority that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the future of seafaring for the worse.

We need to take this on board. We need to learn lessons and ensure a better future for seafarers.

As a former seafarer myself, today's theme "Special protection for seafarers – key worker status and fair treatment" is very close to my heart.

This audience will need no reminding of the key role of seafarers to play in keeping food on our tables, clothes in our shops and medicines in our hospitals, even delivering world trade throughout this pandemic.

We cannot ignore the extreme hardships seafarers have faced during the 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Seafarers are still striving for leave ships – and to join ships due to travel restrictions.

Seafarers are still striving for access medical care when needed – not just for COVID-19 but also routine health issues or following an accident on board. This can literally be a matter of life or death.

We hear of several harrowing cases of deceased seafarers whose remains have stayed on board ships, as the master desperately seeks a port where they can be repatriated back to their loved ones.

These are real challenges which threaten the mental health of seafarers, and the livelihoods of whole families.

This continues to be a humanitarian crisis which threatens the safety of life at sea and the global supply chain.

The legal basis is in place. ILO's Maritime Labour Convention, the MLC, lays out requirements for leave, repatriation and medical care.

This fourth pillar in the foundations of maritime law complements the three key IMO treaties on safety of life at sea, SOLAS; training of seafarers, STCW; and pollution prevention, MARPOL.

These treaties go hand in hand because seafarers' welfare is the essential component which underpins the ability of seafarers to ensure accidents and pollution are prevented.

Since the start of the pandemic, IMO, ILO, ITF and industry partners have worked extremely hard to develop and disseminate guidance and protocols, including the now well-established industry protocols to allow safe crew changes.

The IMO's Seafarer Crisis Action Team or SCAT has been dealing with hundreds of cases involving individual ships, seafarers or groups of seafarers.

By raising these cases with relevant authorities, this can often help to bring about a solution. One goal of the SCAT is to resolve cases through diplomatic negotiation, to get a fair result for seafarers.

I once again urge designation of seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers. As critical supply chain workers, seafarers should be granted access to special travel arrangements and to vaccination.

So far, I have received notification from 60 IMO Member States that they have granted seafarers key worker status. We need more such designations, to ensure rights and protections such as barrier-free travel and priority access to vaccinations.

While the plight of seafarers has gained worldwide attention, including a UN General Assembly resolution adopted last December, we must do everything in our power to accomplish more.

I appreciate the unprecedented level of cooperation and support within the maritime industry and the international community to bring an end to this crisis. We cannot do it alone.

Responding to this crisis will require the cooperation of multiple agencies of government, the industry and the international community. I urge everyone concerned to continue to collaborate and work together to eliminate and resolve the difficulties that so many seafarers are facing.

I will continue to beat the drum for seafarers.

It is important that we all do this, because while the media, has been very helpful in explaining the issues to the public, they may move on to other stories.

Those of us in the maritime community have a responsibility to keep the welfare of seafarers in the public eye. 

Today's discussions are a part of that effort.

I deeply thank the ITF and Seafarers' Rights International for hosting this conference today and the unprecedented efforts and sweat to date.

I look forward to the discussions which will contribute to the ensure fair treatment for seafarers.

Thank you.