As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage populations
shoreside, one group of workers have remained at their jobs during
this crisis to supply the world with the goods and cargo needed to
keep the economy moving.
Mariners have extended their contracts and stayed aboard ships around
the world. Most have had no choice as they cannot leave their ships
because ports will not allow these men and women to come ashore —
even for crew changes.
Per the Maritime Labor Convention, no seafarer should remain working
aboard a ship for more than 11 months. However, the secretary-general
for the United Nations International Maritime Organization has
received reports of some crews being on vessels for as long as 15
The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation (to which
several MTD affiliates belong) is leading a worldwide campaign to get
relief for these mariners.
“Our main concern is that failing to relieve fatigued, stressed and
desperate crew is only inviting accidents or major incidents which
will damage the shipping industry and the reputation of these same
seafarers who, throughout the pandemic, have professionally and
responsibly carried on and continued working in order to keep the
world’s global supply chain moving,” the ITF said in a release dated
“They have done their duty and now they deserve our support,” added the ITF.
America’s maritime unions have worked publicly and behind the scenes
to get relief for mariners stuck aboard U.S.-flag vessels. They have
negotiated with contracted companies to arrange chartered flights to
international locations allowing crew changes. But this has not been
easy as the pandemic has forced some locales to change the rules and
disrupt plans for a crew switch.
In a letter to the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, the maritime
union presidents wrote, “Scores of U.S. mariners are presently trapped
aboard cargo ships, unable to take leave or return home due to extreme
COVID-19 lockdown measures imposed by foreign governments. This
humanitarian crisis, if not resolved as soon as possible, may threaten
the essential supply chain for some 200,000 active U.S. military
personnel now serving overseas.
“The cargo carried on these U.S. flagged ships support our troops, our
allies and the global economy,” the letter continued.
“It is well documented that isolation and excessive time serving
aboard ship can create increased fatigue and psychological stress,
raising the risk of marine accidents. Thousands of mariners across the
globe who work on foreign-flagged vessels are in the same
predicament,” the presidents noted.
Those signing the May 28 letter were MTD and Seafarers International
Union President Michael Sacco; Sailors’ Union of the Pacific (and San
Francisco Port Council) President Dave Connolly; American Maritime
Officers (and South Florida Port Council) President Paul Doell; Marine
Engineers’ Beneficial Association President Marshall Ainley;
International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots President Don
Marcus; and Marine Oilers, Firemen, Watertenders and Wipers
Association President Anthony Poplawski.
Joining the call to help the mariners was Pope Francis.
On June 17, he delivered a video message to world’s seafarers and
fishers: “I would like to say to all of you. Know that you are not
alone and that you are not forgotten.
“Long periods spent aboard ships without being able to disembark,
separation from families, friends and native countries, fear of
infection… All these things are a heavy burden to bear, now more
than ever,” added the Pope.