The author is CEO and chairman elect of V.Group

On the excessive seas, a hidden humanitarian disaster is gripping the freight ships that maintain global trade afloat. Lockdown measures designed to fight the pandemic have left as many as 400,000 seafarers stranded on their vessels, previous the expiry of their contracts. That’s nearly half the 1m seafarers estimated to be at sea at any time. Sheer exhaustion means the chance of a big accident is rising.

In regular occasions, these women and men — many from nations equivalent to India and the Philippines — would work 4 to 6 months after which depart the vessel to fly dwelling to their households. However Covid-19 restrictions across the globe have made crew changeovers a logistical nightmare.

Strict guidelines in lots of ports imply authorities typically don’t enable present crew off their vessels, or alternative crews to go on board. There have been widespread closures of visa places of work. Lockdown guidelines that change from each day solely complicate the scenario.

Some seafarers have now been on board for greater than a 12 months. Below big stress, many are struggling psychological well being points. Others have been denied medical remedy. It’s a testomony to their professionalism that they’ve carried on working. On the identical time, crews hoping to affix a vessel have been left on shore with out pay.

In addition to the human value, this disaster is a threat to world commerce, simply as nations try to revive their economies. These ships transport about 90 per cent of all the products traded around the globe — from automobiles and laptops to grease and meals. Trade slowed within the early levels of the pandemic, with many ships both gradual steaming or sitting at anchor awaiting directions. However in latest months, we have now seen trade return to normal.

The strain on present crews, worn-out after months on board, has raised the chance of great accident. The environmental penalties of an accident involving considered one of these big vessels, which carry as much as 250,000 tonnes of cargo, could possibly be devastating.

There may be additionally a danger that, in some unspecified time in the future, crews will merely say sufficient is sufficient and down instruments, straining the already fragile world financial restoration. Some seafarers who’ve managed to get off ships are actually understandably reluctant to return, making recruitment for future voyages troublesome. Crew prices have risen by an estimated 10 per cent within the first half of the 12 months.

What may be carried out? V.Group, the ship administration firm that I run, mans near 900 ships. Now we have been working to assist the 15,000 seafarers on our vessels, and to induce governments to agree a worldwide response to this world disaster. We all know what can work.

Some three dozen nations — together with Indonesia, Liberia, the Netherlands, Panama, the UK and the US — have began to ease the issue by designating seafarers as “key employees”.

This has allowed us to place in place processes to get present crews off ships, and herald replacements. Chartering flights to get crews dwelling, and diverting ships to ports the place they’ll disembark, additionally helps.

Sadly, many nations have did not comply with by way of. Whereas acknowledging the issue, they’re reluctant to behave and resolve it.

However treating seafarers as key employees and adopting supporting measures would a minimum of give us the prospect to place in place secure corridors to carry crews out and in of port, with testing regimes to make sure they don’t have the virus.

Late final month, the UN — and firms equivalent to Fidelity International, the asset supervisor — urged nations to do extra to assist the hundreds of struggling seafarers, and to categorise them as key employees.

This name for motion is a step in the proper route. However we want greater than phrases. Now could be the time for concerted, world motion to deal with the difficulty head-on and assist free the hundreds of seafarers trapped by Covid-19.

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