GENEVA

Two UN agencies on Wednesday called on governments to facilitate shipping crew changeovers when international flights resume to help fatigued seafarers go home.

The UN Trade and Development Agency (UNCTAD) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) made the call.

They reiterated that governments should allow crew changes and ensure seafarers have access to documentation and travel options so that they can return home safely.

Maritime transport depends on the 2 million seafarers who operate the world’s merchant ships, which carry more than 80% of global trade by volume, including most of the world’s food, energy, raw materials, and manufactured goods.

“It’s estimated that starting in mid-June as many as 300,000 seafarers a month will require international flights to enable ships’ crew changeover,” said the statement.

About half will travel home by aircraft for repatriation, while the other half will join ships.

Approximately 70,000 cruise ship staff are waiting for their repatriation.

“This process is currently hampered by travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the statement.

Seafarers, many of whom are from poor Asian countries, typically spend six to nine months at sea, before they are relieved to go home and spend time with their families.

Crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely as they are against international safety and employment regulations — and for humanitarian reasons.

The two agencies said that access to medical care for sick or injured crew and medical prescriptions must also be provided.

“We emphasize that, for trade to continue during these critical times, there is a need to keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing, while at the same time ensuring that border agencies can safely undertake all necessary controls.”

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