As a result of the pandemic, the maritime shipping sector faces a humanitarian crisis. This aspect of the ongoing crisis should concern us all. Why? Because the maritime shipping sector moves more than 80 per cent of global trade and is a crucial component of the global economy. Moreover, the United Kingdom is an island nation with over 90% of trade goods transported by sea, ranging from food and fuel to medical supplies needed to fight Covid19.
There are 1.6m seafarers worldwide and it is estimated that upwards of 300,000 of those seafarers are currently trapped on ships awaiting a crew change - some have been working non-stop for over 15 months. This means there are at least another 300,000 seafarers waiting at home to replace them who are not being paid and need to support their families. The cruise industry alone involves around 12,000 UK seafarers. The passenger sector has been hit the hardest with more redundancies on the horizon.
The situation is so serious that UN agencies have made a joint statement calling on all Governments to immediately recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’, and to take swift and effective action to eliminate obstacles to crew changes, ensure maritime safety and facilitate economic recovery.
Since the beginning of the crisis the Unions and Ship owners (ITF & International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and other key national and international actors have made unprecedented efforts to use collaboration and social dialogue, working continuously, creatively and tirelessly to address the issues. The numerous UK maritime charities have also pulled together to support not only serving seafarers and their families but also the retired seafaring community, which includes maritime care homes.
Life at sea makes seafarers and their families back home adopt a stoic and independent approach to living – they adapt and overcome – they have to. They are also proud and notoriously slow at coming forward for help. That’s why maritime charities need your help to reach out to Merchant Navy personnel, past and present, and their families who may need help during these difficult times.
Serving and retired seafarers or their family members in need of advice or assistance are encouraged to visit the Seafarer Support website www.seafarersupport.org where they will find the maritime charity best suited to help. The website acts as a central source of information for the UK maritime charity sector, referring to specialist charities who offer a wide range of assistance, ranging from advice and accommodation to financial support. The Seafarer Support website also covers serving and retired Fishermen, Royal Navy/Royal Marines personnel and their families with links to organisations that help non-UK seafarers.
So, seafarers needing help should visit www.seafarersupport.org or ring Freephone 0800 121 4765.
Finally, to their credit, many major UK based maritime funding charities are collaborating with other charities and organisations around the world to support seafarers’ during the crisis. We’re all in this together and maritime charities are stepping up!