SOS: Stranded and broken seafarers threaten global supply lines

Captain Tejinder Singh, who hasn’t set foot on dry land in more than seven months, said: “I’ve seen grown men cry and don’t know when they’ll be home.

“We are forgotten and taken for granted,” he said of the situation facing tens of thousands of people Beacher like him, ran aground at sea as the Delta variant of the coronavirus ravaged the coast.

“People don’t know how their supermarkets are stocked.”

Singh and most of his 20 powerful crew crossed the globe on a grueling adventure: from India to the United States and then to China, where they were stranded off the congested coast for many years. weeks to wait for unloading. He was speaking to Reuters from the Pacific Ocean as his ship was currently headed for Australia.

They are among about 100,000 seafarers stranded at sea outside of their regular service period, which is usually three to nine months, according to the report. International Shipping Department (ICS), many do not have even a single day of rest on land. Another 100,000 people are stranded on shore, unable to board the ships they need to make a living.

The Delta variant ravaged parts of Asia – home to many of the world’s 1.7 million commercial seafarers – prompting many countries to cut off land access to crews, in In some cases, even for medical treatment. According to ICS estimates, only 2.5% of beachgoers – one in 40 – have been vaccinated.

The United Nations describes the situation as a humanitarian crisis at sea and says governments should classify seafarers as essential workers. With ships carrying around 90% of the world’s trade, the deepening crisis also poses a major threat to the supply chains on which we depend for everything from oil to steel to food. products and electronics.

Bulk owner Singh, from northern India, is not optimistic about coming ashore any time soon; His last sea voyage lasted 11 months. He said his crew of Indians and Filipinos were living in cabins measuring about 15ft by 6ft.

“Being at sea for a long time is very difficult,” he said, adding that he had heard reports of crew members committing suicide on other ships.

“The hardest question to answer is when the kids ask, ‘When are you coming home?’,” he said from his ship, which was carrying coal recently.

Guy Platten, Secretary-General of the ICS, which represents more than 80% of the world’s merchant fleet, said India and the Philippines, both reeling from the raging waves of COVID-19, account for more than a portion. three commercial seafarers in the world.

“We are extremely worried as a second global crew change crisis looms on the horizon,” he told Reuters, referring to a multi-month period in 2020 when 200,000 crew members on the ships could not be relieved.


In an overall picture, this month, nearly 9% of merchant seamen have been stranded on their ships past their contracts, up from just over 7% in May, according to data compiled by Reuters. The Global Maritime Forum’s non-profit group brings together 10 ship managers who are jointly responsible for more than 90,000 seafarers.

The maximum allowed contract term is 11 months, according to the provisions of the United Nations seagoing convention.

In normal times, an average of 50,000 seafarers rotate and 50,000 disembark each month, but this figure is now a fraction of that, according to industry traders, although exact figures are not available.

The new crew crisis stems from restrictions imposed by major maritime nations across Asia including South Korea, Taiwan and China, home to some of the world’s busiest container ports. The requirements range from mandatory checks for crews who are from or have visited certain countries, to outright bans on crew changes and docking operations.

Rajesh Unni, chief executive officer of Synergy Marine Group, a leading ship manager responsible for 14,000 crew members.

“The problem is we have a bunch of people desperate to go home because they’ve finished their term, and another group of people on shore who are desperate to get back on the ship for a living.”


The crisis has left nearly half of seafarers considering leaving the industry or unsure whether to stay or go, according to a survey by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in March. by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

This suggests an ongoing labor crisis that will strain the world’s 50,000-strong merchant fleet and threaten the integrity of global supply chains. A shortage of container ships carrying consumer products and logjlogs at ports around the world is rampant in the retail industry, sending freight rates skyrocketing to record levels, sending commodity prices soaring.

“You don’t have enough crew anyway,” said Mark O’Neil, CEO of leading ship management Columbia Shipmanagement and president of the international association for ship and crew management. The shipping industry is working on a very lean model.”

“But now we have all these problems and we have a large number of crew members being taken out of that available pool,” he said, adding that the result could be that the ships cannot off.

Stephen Cotton, secretary general of the ITF, said the crew had been pushed to their physical and mental limits.

He added: “Some in the industry estimate that the number of crew members on ships is 25% less than in the pre-pandemic era. “We’ve warned that global brands need to get ready for the moment when some of these weary and tired people are finally caught up.”


While COVID-19 cases in India have dropped from their peak, countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia are facing increased cases and new lockdown measures.

O’Neil added: “If it gets worse, which it can do, or if Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Ukraine – other sailing hubs – run into similar problems, then cake the car will really swerve.”

Esben Poulsson, chairman of the board of directors of ICS, emphasized the importance of the review.

“In my 50 years in the maritime industry, the crew change crisis has been unprecedented in terms of the devastating impact it has had on seafarers worldwide,” he said. its board of directors in June.

Most seafarers from developing countries have struggled to secure adequate supplies of vaccines, leaving many in the maritime industry low on the priority list.

ICS’ Platten said governments with significant access to vaccines have a “moral responsibility” to seafarers.

He added: “They have to follow the lead of the US and the Netherlands and vaccinate the non-native crew members who are shipping to their ports. They must give priority to vaccination of seafarers.

A total of 55 member states of the United Nations shipping agency (IMO) have ranked seafarers as essential workers, said David Hammond, executive director of the charity Human Rights at Sea. .

IMO says the latest figures show the number has risen to 60 member states and two associate members.

This classification will allow seafarers to travel more freely and return to their homes, and give them better access to vaccines.

Hammond urged all other countries to follow suit.

Collectively, the global shipping industry is part of a $14 trillion maritime supply chain. | SOS: Stranded and broken seafarers threaten global supply lines


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