Stranded seafarers a ‘global humanitarian crisis’

Mark Dickinson, head of seafarers union Nautilus International, told Mersey Maritime members that up to a million seafarers could be stranded at sea by Christmas due to COVID-19. Tony McDonough reports

Aegean Sea
Ships in the Aegean Sea. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

Maritime industry leaders in Merseyside have been told that the number of seafarers stranded out at sea during the COVID-19 pandemic has created “a global humanitarian crisis”.

Mark Dickinson, general secretary of seafarers union Nautilus International, addressed the national Maritime Exchange conference organised by Mersey Maritime. He told those logging in for the virtual event that there were currently around 400,000 seafarers stranded on ships around the world.

In a panel discussion on mental health in the maritime sector, Mr Dickinson added that by Christmas that number could swell to one million. Due to the pandemic, many have spent months at sea separated from their friends and family.

In September, the Crosby-based Liverpool Seafarers Centre warned of the devastating impact on the mental health of those still stuck on ships due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

In the UK alone, 95% of the food, medicines and other essential goods that we need on a daily basis arrives here on ships. Seafarers are classed as key workers and their work has been invaluable during the pandemic. But their plight is worsening.

At the start of the Maritime Exchange, UK Maritime Minister Robert Courts had also highlighted the plight of the stranded seafarers. He said: “In every country, in every port and on every ocean, seafarers have kept the world supplied.

“That dedication has come at a cost. Many seafarers have found themselves at sea for far longer than they could have possibly imagined. Being away from their friends, family and from their homes.

“The UK is fully aware of the sacrifices people have made for us. That is why we have worked tirelessly on repatriation programmes and, together with the UN… to allow them to pass through countries unhindered and freely to be reunited with their families.”

However, while the UK Government has made efforts to address the crisis, Mr Dickinson said other countries have been less co-operative and that more action was needed to ensure seafarers are thrown a lifeline.

“We are staring down the barrel of a huge humanitarian crisis,” he added. “Seafarers are the heroes of the pandemic, among many others. They have helped to keep us supplied but they are often forgotten. We do suffer from ‘sea-blindness’ and we have to address that. There are fundamental questions of how we treat our seafarers.”

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