Governments need to urgently act to ensure ships’ crew changeovers can take place to keep world trade flowing and avert a humanitarian and ship safety crisis, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has told Member State representatives. “We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and a real safety issue – we cannot expect seafarers currently on ships to stay at sea forever. It is the responsibility of Governments to allow shipping to continue moving, and for seafarers to return to their homes, or get to their ships to begin work,” Mr. Lim said during a virtual meeting organized by IMO (9 June) to brief permanent representatives and liaison officers from IMO Member States. It is estimated that some 150,000 seafarers are urgently waiting to leave their ships since their contracts as well as any extensions have expired and they need to be replaced by a similar number, since travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have severely hampered crew changeovers.
Mr. Lim thanked countries which have made progress by designating seafarers as key workers, by facilitating crew changes through implementing crew change protocols which have been endorsed by IMO, by easing travel restrictions including facilitating the issuance of passports and visas, and by giving seafarers access to medical care. “But I remain very concerned about countries where restrictions are still in place for seafarers,” Mr. Lim said.
The importance of collaboration between all maritime sectors has been thrown into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic and will be needed more than ever in the recovery phase, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim told a webinar on ship-shore relations. Mr. Lim highlighted ongoing challenges, including the need for crew changeovers for some 150,000 seafarers who need to leave their ships. However, the pandemic has led to intensive collaboration on a digital and virtual basis between the shipping and port communities, as well as with and between Governments and international organizations. Many Governments had acted in collaboration with shipping and ports to address crew change and other issues, but more needed to be done. “I would like to encourage all Governments to pay attention to these issues, which impact not only on shipping but also the global economy and the global supply chain,” Mr. Lim said.
The webinar speakers agreed that the pandemic situation has highlighted the relevance of digitalization and new ways of working, which should continue beyond the immediate crisis situation. One example is electronic data exchange, for information which needs to be exchanged between ship and shore. Electronic data exchange is mandatory under IMO’s FAL Convention. IMO is looking at ways to support countries to fully implement electronic data, exchange and the recommended single window approach, whereby all data is sent through a single portal. For IMO’s regulatory work, the way ahead may mean holding virtual meetings to ensure the work on important agenda items, including action on climate change and safety issues, is advanced.
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