By Vatican News staff writer
Drawing attention to the “the unparalleled challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to maritime workers globally”, three United Nations entities have appealed to those related to the shipping and maritime industry, especially businesses, to help address the crisis faced by the workers.
“The situation of workers of the international shipping industry stranded at sea because of the pandemic, which UN agencies have recently qualified as a 'humanitarian crisis', requires an urgent and concrete response from all actors involved – including the business sector,” said the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), the UN Global Compact, and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The group underscored the indispensable service that the maritime shipping industry renders in sustaining the global supply chains. The workers’ role has become even “more vital during the pandemic, as they work to ensure the continuous flow of medical equipment, food and other essential goods”.
Yet, they have become the “collateral victims of the anti-Covid-19 measures imposed by governments. Measures such as travel bans, embarkation and disembarkation restrictions or suspension in the issuance of travel documents, the UN group said, have severely strained the working conditions in the global shipping sector.
As a result, the group lamented, some 800,000 seafarers are currently stranded on vessels, or are prevented from returning to ships, either to earn their living or to return home. Those trapped on ships are often forced to extend their 11-month maximum period on board, according to international labour standards. The UN group said similar conditions exist in the fishing industry and on off-shore platforms.
OHCHR, UN Global Compact and the UN Working Group said the “situation has severe impacts over the basic human rights of seafarers and other marine personnel, including the right to physical and mental health, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to family life”.
“It also increases dramatically the risks of security and environmental hazards.”
UN Secretary-General has appealed that seafarers and other marine personnel be designated as “key workers,” to ensure regular and safe crew changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN group said the response to the crisis will require concerted efforts from relevant actors, such as international organizations, trade unions, but most importantly the business sector.
The responsibility of defending the rights of maritime workers extends to the thousands of business enterprises that use the services of maritime freight transport – which accounts for almost 90 per cent of world trade.
OHCHR, UN Global Compact and the UN Working Group encouraged a meaningful dialogue and consultation with seafarers’ and other worker’s organizations, trade unions, civil society, and other stakeholders in the design of relevant measures and actions.