150,000 seafarers trapped at sea

150,000 seafarers are currently trapped at sea owing to overly-restrictive COVID-19 regulations. That’s a 50% increase on just a few weeks ago.

A population of seafarers about the size of Cairns or Darwin is trapped at sea by COVID-19 regulations, new research has revealed.

About 150,000 seafarers will need a crew change by May 15, according to data compiled by the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Maritime Employer’s Council.

That’s a 50 per cent increase from the 100,000 seafarers estimated as trapped at sea when the International Chamber of Shipping highlighted the problem with national governments and the G20 about two weeks ago.

To put that into an Australian context, the population of Darwin at the June 2018 census was 148,564 and the population of Cairns was 152,729 people.

Crew changes have all but completely stopped

“Globally there are 1.2 million seafarers onboard 65,000 ships at sea. For the past two months crew change has all but completely stopped. This means that crew have not been able to disembark or embark ships at port and terms have had to be extended, but this is not sustainable… The new data indicates that 150,000 seafarers are in need of immediate crew change, with the potential for this number to increase significantly until travel restrictions are eased” Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS said.

Australia has been one of the culprits, with different restrictions in each state severely restricting the ability of shipping companies to change crews. 

One seafarer arrived at Sydney airport intending to immediately join his ship three kilometres away at Port Botany but was forced into 14-days of isolation in a central Sydney hotel.  On release he flew home as his ship had already sailed.

“This is just one example of an absurd outcome from restrictive rules”, Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn said.  “If the intent was to keep NSW safe, surely the seafarer leaving immediately on a ship would be better than putting him on a bus with other people and transferring him to a distant hotel?”

Sensible uniform national rules but States & Territories go their own way

Three weeks ago Australia’s National Cabinet sensibly agreed to uniform comprehensive rules allowing for crew changes. However, each State and Territory is either going its own way or, while saying they are aligning with the national rules, have actually made very little progress.

The current situation risks the safety and mental wellbeing of seafarers. The continued inability to rotate seafarers on-and-off ships poses a serious threat to the ability of ships to deliver vital cargo at a time when countries need it most, the ICS said.

About 90 to 95 per cent of everything is delivered by sea.  In Australia, delays to shipping leads to delays in common everyday goods along with delays in the arrival of essential medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and intermediate goods that are needed by Australian families, medical practices, hospitals and Australian businesses.

An increasing burden – repeated quarantines

Burdens are increasing on ships and seafarers. Shipping Australia repeatedly hears of sad cases where seafarers – who may be Australians working on vital Australian projects – are being forced into 14-day quarantine when they enter a state to carry out essential work and are then forced back into a 14-day quarantine again when they leave that state. They rarely get to see their families.

“Seafarers are are vital to ensuring the flow of sea trade during the current COVID-19 crisis and their welfare needs to be prioritised. Governments globally must move quickly and grant the necessary exemptions to ensure crew changeovers are facilitated in a timely manner”, Rod Nairn concluded.



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