A number of them who I talked to during my trip, still had one or two months on board before they could return to their families on leave. Unfortunately for them, this is now no longer possible because of Covid-19. And although there are enough posts about how this situation is making it impossible for crew changes to take place all over the world, I want to share something on this topic with my non-maritime network on LinkedIn.
The work of these professionals, and this applies to all merchant seafarers, is physically hard, dangerous, but at the same time challenging and vital. The crew is responsible for their own safety and that of the cargo. They are committed to their work but just like everyone else, they also look forward to the end of their contract period which can last anywhere between 4.5 months and 9 months. This makes it all the more distressing that this group is now being physically and mentally put to the test as a result of the current situation.
We should not forget that as much as 90% of the goods transported worldwide travel by ship and that these crews ensure that the rest of us are supplied with our daily necessities and luxury items. They therefore deserve at least as much respect as all the other people in vital professions. If this supply chain ever breaks down, the problems in the world will increase significantly. And the situation is already serious. The crews are unable to leave their ships and return to their families. The borders of many counties are closed and there are travel restrictions. This not only has a serious impact on the crews who are unable to leave their ships but also on the seafarers who should have replaced them. They are forced to stay at home and often have no income, also creating social tension.
It would solve a lot of problems if the crew changes could be organized on a global level in this time of Covid-19. Fortunately, the International Maritime Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation are aware of this and working hard to find a solution. Every month around 100,000 crew changes should occur and that requires significant organization to ensure safe flights, hotels, transport and document processing. A network of ports and hubs and a relaxation in travel limitations may offer the solution.
Despite all these difficulties, I sincerely hope that crews throughout the entire shipping industry are soon able to travel back to their friends and families and that those seafarers who have been unable to travel can get back to work.
The crew of the Mv Italia Stream have a special place in my heart, and I wish them all the best in these troubled times! These people are the invisible engine of international trade!