Ships sound their horns for the 150,000 seafarers stuck at sea

By May 15 there will be 150,000 seafarers stuck at sea as countries around the globe are denying shore access in fear of the coronavirus. Today at noon, ships around the world will sound their horn in solidarity and to highlight the need for government action.

New data compiled by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) has found that 150,000 seafarers are in need of crew change by 15 May, 50% more than when ICS first highlighted the problem with national governments and the G20.

Continued inaction will see this number continue to rise, risking both safety and the mental wellbeing of seafarers. The situation also poses a serious threat to the ability of ships to deliver vital cargo at a time when countries need it most.

With today’s action, the ICS and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) want to draw widespread attention to the situation.

“For the past two months, crew change has all but completely stopped. This means that crew have not been able to disembark or embark ships at port and terms have had to be extended, but this is not sustainable. International Workers’ Day is the ideal moment to recognise their contribution to fighting the coronavirus pandemic”, says secretary-general Guy Platten of ICS.


The industry is working hard to find solutions. Lead by CEO Rajesh Unni of Singapore-based Synergy Group, a group of shipping companies has developed port viability and seafarer risk assessment plans which they are convinced will mitigate the risk of coronavirus infections during essential crew changeovers.

The companies believe that collective crew changes at identified ports are a feasible short-term aim even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic if state assistance is made available. They have identified key ports where the collective crew changes can potentially be organised. These ports are Singapore, Houston, Rotterdam, Gibraltar, Jebel Ali, Fujairah, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

In the Netherlands, the Royal Association of Netherlands’ Shipowners (KNVR) is in talks with airline KLM to create an airlift with special flights for seafarers. They are to pick up crew from the ship and bring them home, KNVR director Annet Koster says. She added that Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam would be a good location because there are several large seaports nearby, including Rotterdam, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Eemshaven and Bremen.

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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