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ITF: The Deadline for Crew Change is Over

After weeks of calling on governments to facilitate maritime crew changes and designate the millions of workers in critical transport industries as key workers, the International Transport Works’ Federation (ITF) issued a statement to seafarers saying simply, “Enough is enough.”

The ITF had repeatedly said in its calls for action that June 16 was the deadline for governments to implement the IMO protocols that would make crew changes possible. Now the ITF has increased the pressure speaking directly to the over 200,000 seafarers that it believes are waiting to disembark from the world’s ships and return home. The message says, “You have done your job, performed your duties, and accepted that you were unable to return home in the beginning in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 – but no more.”

Highlighting that many countries have slowly started to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions after 2-3 months of lockdown and are now reopening stores and services and allowing people to meet friends and families, the ITF says that hundreds of thousands of seafarers worldwide remain stuck on board, unable to go ashore, seek medical attention or return home.
“If you have finished your contract, then you have the right to be repatriated. If this is not possible then you would remain on board as a passenger. The consequences could be that the ship is unable to sail if the manning level is inadequate, but that is not the responsibility of the seafarers,” said the ITF.

In recent days, the ITF had applauded the efforts of some governments to address the problems and relax the restrictions preventing crew changes and the crew members that may be aboard ships for 6 to 10 months from getting home to family and friends. Just today, Singapore highlighted that it has granted permission for approximately 4,000 crew changes since the end of March and last week Canada, Hong Kong, and New Zealand each said that they would be easing the rules to permit crew transfers.

The ITF, however, pointed out that seafarers, “continue to be treated as second class citizens,” by most jurisdictions and it fears that they might be forced into further contract extensions lasting 2 to 3 more months due to travel restrictions and a lack of flights.

They concluded the statement by saying, “The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and our member unions have forewarned governments and the industry that after today, the 15 June 2020, that it will no longer be acceptable that seafarers are forced to continue to work.” 
In guidance to crew members on their rights, the ITF says the maximum period a seafarer can be expected to serve on board before being entitled to repatriation at the shipowner’s expense is 12 months. It further instructs members that they can refuse any contract extension.

Regarding reparations, the ITF says, crew members have the right to be repatriated at no cost if their employment agreement ends while they are aboard, if the contract is terminated by the shipowner or for reasons including fatigue or exhaustion, or if the crew member is unable to carry out their assigned duties due to illness, injury or shipwreck. 

Finally, it says that crew members have the right not to perform work once they have completed their contract, but that they should be available for safety and emergencies, and not refuse to work while at sea. According to the ITF, seafarers should wait until the ship is anchored or docked in port before stopping work, and if that causes a ship to fall below its minimum manning requirements the ship should be reported and not permitted to sail.