The Republic of Panama, first registry of ships with more than 8,500 flagged vessels exceeding 230 million GRT (gross registered tons), representing approximately 16% of the world maritime fleet and with approximately 318,000 seafarers on board, requested the collaboration of the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Kitack Lim, to mediate and help seafarers and ship owners with respect to a crisis with ships occurring in the Far East.
This situation affects some 74 ships and more than 1,500 crew members of various nationalities who are confined to their vessels in ports and waters of the People’s Republic of China. These vessels are fully loaded with coal imported from Australia.
The facts have been reported by different media and although the shipowners have sent requests to the governments of the People’s Republic of China and Australia, the condition has not changed.
“Our mission in this regard, is to seek a reasonable and positive solution for the crew of these vessels to return home. Let us recall that last September 21, 2020, the IMO Maritime Safety Committee adopted Resolution MSC.473 (ES.2) on recommended measures to facilitate ship crew changes, access to medical care and seafarer travel during the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry-developed protocols to ensure crew changes and safe travel during the pandemic set out in MSC.1/Circ.1636,” added the Minister of Maritime Affairs, Arq. Noriel Araúz in his missive.
He added that the diplomatic powers of the IMO “can help us to expose before the competent authorities, that due to a commercial disagreement, the human rights and welfare of the crews of these ships are being ignored”.
In a dispute or commercial disagreement, crews should not be involved, nor their disembarkation prevented, especially if their employment contract has expired or they are on board against their will, taking into consideration that the crew member has worked continuously, as the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) has systematically considered, indicating that from the combined reading of standard A2. 4, paragraphs 2 and 3, on annual leave; and of standard A2.5.1, paragraph 2(b), on repatriation, of the Maritime Labour Convention (2006), as amended, from which it follows that the maximum duration of the continuous period of service on board a ship without leave is, in principle, eleven (11) months.
In addition, under no circumstances shall Member States of the Maritime Labour Convention (2006), as amended, deny the right of repatriation to any seafarer, due to the financial circumstances of the shipowner or the shipowner’s inability or unwillingness to replace a seafarer, as stipulated in Standard A126.96.36.199 “Repatriation” of the above-mentioned Convention.
Furthermore, it is understood that it is not up to the Flag States to allow or not, the disembarkation of crew members when the vessel is in jurisdictional waters or ports of another country. In this regard, we reiterate that our main objective is to take into consideration the welfare of seafarers and as a Flag State, we trust that when this note is in the hands of the IMO, we can find a solution to this crisis for the good of the seafarers, considered “Key Workers”.
Minister Araúz reaffirmed the Panama Maritime Authority’s commitment to work jointly with the IMO, strengthening and promoting cooperation mechanisms that will allow the maritime industry and its related activities to continue to be a fundamental pillar of sustainable social and economic development worldwide.