On 28 April, we celebrate World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This has always been an important day for the maritime sector and for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is responsible for the safety and security of shipping. This day is particularly significant in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While everyone around the world has been impacted by the pandemic to some extent, this crisis has taken a particularly hard toll on seafarers, who have continued to operate as key workers in the global supply chain. On any given day, one million seafarers are working on some 60,000 large cargo vessels worldwide to ensure the flow of international trade. Much of IMO’s important work centers on keeping these seafarers, and the ships they operate, safe and secure.
Despite a lack of access to repatriation, shore leave and crew change, seafarers have ensured that people continue to receive deliveries of food, PPE, equipment needed to work from home and, of course, medications including vaccines.
Seafarers are integral to helping the world and various economies recover from COVID-19 and they can only do so if they are assured of a safe working environment. Seafarers need unhindered access to medical care when required. They need to be granted access to travel and transit for crew changes so that crew can be relieved when their contracts end, to prevent their physical and mental health from suffering.
IMO has issued regularly updated protocols to allow crew changes to take place as safely as possible. Allowing unhindered crew changes means that rested, physically able seafarers will be crewing these complex vessels, ensuring a safe work environment and safe voyages.
More than 80% of the world’s goods by volume are carried by sea, making it imperative to take every step we can to keep maritime workers healthy, and ensuring the safety of navigation.
I commend the 58 IMO Member States that have already granted shipping workers this key worker status. I urge IMO Member States to designate seafarers as key workers and grant them priority access to vaccines and travel and transit.
As we work towards a safer tomorrow for every one of us, we must make sure that we all honour the seafarers and other key workers that are helping us along the way, by keeping them safe.