By Robin Gomes
While calling on the international shipping industry to contribute to the global economy without upsetting nature’s delicate balance, the United Nations chief is urging governments to ensure the safety and welfare of some 2 million seafarers engaged in the world’s merchant fleet.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the appeal in a message for World Maritime Day, which is being observed on Thursday. “I renew my appeal to Governments to address their plight by formally designating seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”, ensuring safe crew changes and implementing the protocols developed by UN agencies, as well as the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, allowing stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships,” he wrote in his message.
Shipping under Covid-19
The theme of this year’s observance is, “Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet”. The UN chief said that the theme “has gained extraordinary resonance” this year. Shipping has continued to transport more than 80 per cent of world trade, including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical in responding to and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic.
While highlighting the professionalism and sacrifice of seafarers, the pandemic has also raised concern about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis these indispensable workers face. In these unprecedented conditions, seafarers have continued to tirelessly support the often invisible global logistics chain.”
Safety and welfare of seafarers
The UN Secretary-General noted that besides their physical and mental exhaustion, and being away from their families and loved ones, their time at sea has now been extended far beyond the standards stipulated in international conventions, with some tours of duty now stretching more than 17 months. “Fatigued seafarers,” he warned, “cannot operate indefinitely, and disruptions to international shipping would have devastating consequences.”
Shipping and SDGs
While calling for the safety and welfare of the seafarers, Guterres also underscored the vital role that the shipping industry can play in achieving most, if not all, of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He said that shipping activities must adapt themselves to the cleaner and greener global standards developed by the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO). “Governments and IMO, he said, must continue to work together to support the decarbonization of shipping and improved energy efficiency.” He urged for increased digitalization, involving ports, and the sustainability and protection of the workforce, including a focus on diversity.
Underscoring that the maritime sector underpins world trade and will continue to be essential for building a sustainable future for the people and the planet, Guterres urged the industry to continue contributing to the global economy without upsetting nature’s delicate balance.
IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, also issued a similar message for World Maritime Day, commending the shipping services and seafarers for delivering essential goods, including medical supplies, food and fuel to help respond to and overcome the Covid-19 crisis.
Underscoring the theme of the observance, he said shipping activities must be balanced with Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the long-term health and diversity of the oceans.
The Church and seafarers
Several Christian Churches mark Sea Sunday in July to remember and pray for seafarers, their families and all who support them. The Catholic Church has a special ministry for seafarers through its Apostleship of the Sea, carried out largely through its Stella Maris (Star of the Sea) centres. This year under Covid-19, the Catholic Church has particularly focussed on seafarers, their services and their needs. Pope Francis has drawn attention to them at least three times.