The United Nations maritime and trade entities have said that it is more important than ever to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the United Nations Conference on Trafe and Development (UNCTAD), which tracks world trade, has reiterated calls these calls.
The two organisations want governments to promote crew well-being by allowing crew changes and ensuring seafarers and travel options so that they can return home safely.
It has been estimated that, starting in mid-June 2020, as many as 300,000 seafarers a month will require international flights to enable ships’ crew changeover.
About half will travel home by aircraft for repatriation while the other half will join ships – 70,000 cruise ship staff are waiting for their repatriation.
However, due to travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this process has been hampered.
Yet, to comply with international safety and employment regulations, these crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely.
Access to medical care and sick or injured crew and to medical prescriptions must also be provided.
IMO and UNCTAD have also reaffirmed the urgent need for ‘key worker’ designation for seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel and service personnel at ports.
The two groups noted that government and relevant national and local authorities must recognise that these workers provide essential services and thus should be exempt from travel restrictions.
The joint statement said: “Such designation will ensure that the trade in essential goods, including medical supplies and food, is not hampered by the pandemic and the associated containment measures.
“International collaboration, coordination and solidarity among all is going to be key to overcoming the unprecedented global challenge posed by the pandemic and its longer-term repercussions.”
IMO and UNCTAD have also urged governments to pursue collaborative efforts to identify and remove any unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery and to facilitate maritime transport and trade in these difficult times.
Pragmatic approaches, such as granting exemptions and waivers where necessary and appropriate, have also been urged.
Additionally, efforts should be made to facilitate means for ship-shore, administrative and commercial interactions.
There should be effective sharing of pre-arrival information and other COVID-related reporting requirements for ships and provision of adequate equipment and resources to customs and border control stations in ports.
The joint statement also pointed out that, in the longer term, some of the measures to confront the COVID-19 crisis may offer other important benefits such as encouraging further investment in digitalisation and advancing efforts to improve ships’ energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.