Covid-19 effect: Shipping bodies urge Amazon to help stranded seafarers

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on December 01, 2020

India is the second largest after the Philippines supplier of seafarers for merchant shipping globally

With lakhs of seafarers, including many Indians, stranded at sea unable to come home due to Covid-19 related restrictions imposed by various countries, international shipping associations are exerting pressure on global entrepreneurs like Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos to take a stand for the stranded seafarers and help them in repatriation.

This request is significant for India being the second largest (after Philippines) supplier of seafarers for merchant shipping globally.

In an open letter, the four leading global maritime associations — International Chamber of Shipping (ICS); BIMCO; the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners and the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners — have urged Bezos to take a stand for the 400,000 seafarers due to Covid-19 related issues.

Supply chain

The strength of Amazon’s (and others’) supply chain is central to the success of red-letter retail days like Black Friday. Today, 90 per cent of global trade relies on shipping, which fundamentally serves essential needs such as food, energy supply and other indispensable raw material. If ships do not sail, events on the scale of Black Friday or Cyber Monday would be impossible.

“Yet unforgivably, more than 400,000 of our seagoing colleagues and seafarers, who underpin the movement of goods around the world, are currently stranded on board their vessels, because governments will not recognise their crucial role and prioritise them for immigration and travel purposes,” the letter said.

They urged Bezos to use his influence and profile as the world’s leading retail entrepreneur, whose business relies upon global shipping, to take a stand for the 400,000 seafarers stranded at sea and exert pressure on the incoming Joe Biden administration in the US and other world leaders to recognise seafarers as key workers.

Indian seafarers impacted

VM Joy, a former sailor and Coordinator of Sailors Helpline, which serves the maritime community of India with emergency social services, said that around 2.5 lakh Indian seafarers are employed on merchant ships. Global consumer giants such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Amazon are dependent on ships and seafarers to move their products across the globe. Procter & Gamble and Unilever have voiced their support for repatriating some 400,000 seafarers who are living onboard the ships like prisoners for several months.

“Due to the pandemic the seafarers are exposed to severe stress and this will affect their safety and mental health. The mental wellness of seafarers is of paramount importance for the safe operation of ship and the cargo. We would urge Bezos to lend his support to the stranded seafarers and stress the need to repatriate the crew without further delay,” he said.

Crew change services hit

According to Sanjay Parashar, a member of the National Shipping Board, crew change on ships remains top priority for all ship owners. Nevertheless, over 100 countries with over 500 ports having restricted crew change or no crew change policy is hurting human rights at sea. The pessimism among seafarers remains high even after nine months into Covid pandemic, he said.

“We have been pursuing hard on this matter and we are slowly succeeding. Seafarers too have families. Our worry is with China. While they don’t allow crew change, they now hold about 60 cargo ships with more than 1,000 seafarers. This is slavery,” he added.

Published on December 01, 2020

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