India yet to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on December 16, 2020

India, one of the top five suppliers of crew to the global shipping industry, is yet to designate its seafarers as “key workers”.

A key worker designation for seafarers is essential to exempt these professionals from specific Covid-related travel restrictions, allowing them to travel between their country of residence and ships, and to be repatriated at the end of their contracts.

“This is critical to resolve the crew change crisis, which currently leaves hundreds of thousands of seafarers trapped at sea or stuck at home and unable to join ships. It could even play a key role in granting them priority access to safe (Covid) vaccination,” according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency tasked with regulating global shipping.

Adopting resolutions

IMO, the United Nations General Assembly and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have adopted resolutions urging governments to designate seafarers as key workers. Forty-five IMO Member States and one Associate Member have designated seafarers as key workers, which the IMO said is a key step in resolving the ongoing crew change crisis. The IMO Member States that have designated seafarers as key workers are Bangladesh, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UAE, UK and the US, among others.

‘Matter of urgency’

In a letter issued on December 14, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has called on Member States “that have not yet done so to take action as a matter of urgency”.

The Indian government has framed standard operating procedure/protocol for sign-on and sign-off of Indian and foreign seafarers at Indian ports.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stranded on board ships, having seen their contracts extended beyond the maximum duration of service periods accepted under international treaties - less than 12 months - and a similar number of seafarers are waiting to join ships, according to the IMO.

Published on December 16, 2020

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