Seafarers stranded due to the pandemic

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For Raja, the captain from India, when he was on the other side of the world, the impact of the pandemic first hit his hometown. In March 2020, when he was ready to take charge of the tanker Blue butterfly In Quintero, Chile, the government there announced a total ban on disembarkation. This means that the captain he wants to change must stay on board.

“We sailed to the United States and then to Europe. Only two and a half months later, when we arrived in Hamburg, he was allowed to disembark,” Raj said.

Few professions can feel the pressure of crisis as strongly as seafarers-as many areas of life gradually return to pre-pandemic norms, the shipping industry is still struggling.

although The number of people affected has declined, As of March this year, there are still 200,000 seafarers still on the merchant ship, unable to repatriate and exceed the contract expiry According to estimates By the International Maritime Organization.

At any given time, there are approximately 1 million people working on cargo ships in the world. The ships they command play a vital role in providing medical equipment and ensuring that the world continues to eat and entertain during the blockade. But since the pandemic, the government has often kept crews stranded and forced to spend longer periods of time than allowed by international labor rules on ships that have not been on vacation.

Although maritime law is theoretically applicable internationally, caution is inconsistent. Rajesh Unni, CEO of Synergy Marine Group, which provides ship management services, said: “Seafarers are key workers, but their treatment during the pandemic, whether it’s their health, vaccination or relief, is actually It all depends on the various governments and many maritime regulatory agencies.” And hire Raj.

“Our company is trying to help, but some countries just ban [on disembarkation],” Raj said, he is the owner of 22 crew members. “A colleague has been on the ship for nearly 14 months. “

The usual working period is 6 months, and the maximum period agreed by the International Labour Organization is 11 months. “The United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada treat seafarers like humans. However, other people, especially some people near the Black Sea, do not—they act as if you are polluting and they don’t want any pollution,” Raj said.

Raymond is a captain from the Philippines who has worked on some of the world’s largest bulk carriers and container ships. He recalled the pressure at that time because he waited a few months before boarding. He was supposed to be in charge in March 2020. ship. Bills are piled up like a mountain. Because of the uncertainty, I am a little worried. “

When he finally joined the ship in Port Said, Egypt last August, he found that the crew was exhausted. “The captain I took over was nearly six months longer than his due, which was almost twice his contract. It must have affected his happiness… When you are the captain, even if you are resting, you still You will feel like you are working, and you have to keep thinking about this ship.”

Catherine Spencer, CEO of Seamen’s Charity, said talking to family and friends in their hometown is essential to relieve stress. “The conditions that seafarers face during the pandemic do affect their mental health. One of the stressors is obviously the inability to communicate consistently while at sea.”

In response, Synergy launched last month with another shipping management company Transmarine Carriers in the Philippines and Inmarsat, which provides maritime communications technology. team, A free 24/7 hotline, providing advisory services in 14 languages. “The technology for better communication on ships is there. It’s just that some shipping companies are better than others in providing it,” said Ronald Spithout, President of Inmarsat Maritime.

Raj said that when the mental health of one of his crew members deteriorated, the consultation proved valuable. “This police officer and his girlfriend have some problems. The situation has become very difficult due to the pandemic. This is the first time I have had this experience. I don’t know what to do. I called the hotline and described him. They talked to him, which was very helpful… From that moment, he calmed down and he was able to disembark in India and go home.”

Although Raj believes that more communication on the ship has its drawbacks—the unrestricted Internet access provided by Synergy during the pandemic made some crew members tired from shifts—but he and Raymond agreed to be able to keep in touch with their loved ones. Straight is crucial. “As a captain, you should pay attention to your emotional and mental health. But most Filipinos are reluctant to open up and share our feelings,” Raymond said. “You have to make sure they can keep in touch at all times so that they can visit their family.”

Raymond added that it is also important to create a greater sense of unity among the crew composed mainly of Filipino and Vietnamese sailors. “When I got on the boat for the first time, after eating, people would go straight back to their cabins… What I did was organize some activities to promote friendship.” This includes karaoke, barbecues and sports competitions.

Raj agreed: “It’s important to let people get out of the hut, spend time eating together, in the smoking room, and play table tennis.”

When the crew disembark, the quarantine conditions vary. Raymond must stay in a hotel in the Philippines for 7 days; although conditions are good for him, he heard complaints from others.

Some governments regard seafarers as key workers and give them priority in vaccination campaigns. Raj said that India has reduced the time between the seafarers’ first and second shots from 84 days to 28 days. The Philippines is a country with a large share of the world’s seafarers. It also stated that the crew will be one of the first to be vaccinated. They should give priority to vaccines such as Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, which have a wider range of vaccinations. Internationally recognized.

But it is a mixed bag. “European countries, they over [vaccine] Supply needs to play a greater role in vaccinating non-local seafarers, who are actually the ones who transport the goods they depend on,” Unni said.

Seafarers are angry that this year’s media coverage of incidents such as the Suez Canal blockade focused on the impact on the supply chain rather than on the lives of those responsible for transporting more than 80% of the world’s cargo. They hope to gain greater public recognition.

“This is one of the most noble professions. Imagine if the maritime industry ceased operations, even for a few hours, the world as we know it would cease,” Raymond said. “It’s time to make people aware of the importance of seafarers.”

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