According to World Maritime News, the shipping industry is facing one of the largest humanitarian crisis in years, affecting more than half a million people.
Six months after the start of the pandemic, 300,000 seafarers are trapped at sea, some of them have been at sea for more than 17 months, 6 months longer than allowed in the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC). On the other hand, around 300,000 more seafarers are waiting to join the ships and earn their salaries.
Working 7 days a week under conditions such as fatigue, the physical and mental stress seafarers face jeopardize the ability to perform their job and rightly pose a danger to them, the ships, the marine environment and the seafarers. global supply chains where 90% of the world’s cargo volume moves through maritime transport.
Although the situation has led to an unprecedented level of cooperation within the industry, particularly between industry associations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), who have joined forces to raise awareness of the crisis and develop solutions and protocols to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
The UK government even organized a ministerial meeting to push for the immediacy of the problem. For their part, thirteen countries pledged to facilitate crew changes and achieve the appointment of key workers for seafarers, after the summit, including Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom, and United States.
Unfortunately, the industry has had little success in resolving the situation as the international community failed to take decisive action and did not allow seafarers to be exempted from national travel restrictions that designate them as essential workers.
¿Why haven’t the sailors listed them as essential workers?
The complexity of the crisis has diminished the potential to solve the problem.
“The international community has done a very poor job responding to this global crisis and there has been no adequate global response, despite the efforts of different parts of the international system, including the ILO. What we have seen is an accumulation of national responses, ”said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labor Office (ILO) in a recent webinar organized by ICS.
Similarly, Ryder believes that one of the explanations for such a response is increased geopolitical tensions around the world, limiting global cooperation.
These tensions have led to increased protectionism and, in the event of a global pandemic, most countries resorted to an “each (country) for themselves” strategy while closing their borders.
The ILO Director-General further explained that the crisis has shown that the expected benevolent attitude of national governments towards their international obligations is often non-existent, especially in cases where those governments have no national interest in complying with the obligations in question.
The very complexity of the crisis, in which the health and protection of national populations must be taken into account, has made it easier for some governments not to solve the difficult situation of seafarers, especially if they are not the main providers of hand of work of the sector.
However, the likely impact of the global shipping stoppage could easily have a ripple effect on countries and their economies across the board.
One of the most pressing arguments for the inaction of governments also seems to be the fact that shipping is an industry that preferred to remain in the shadows for such a long period of time and that for this reason does not have the mechanisms or alliances strong enough to do it.
Hugo de Stoop, CEO of Euronav, explained that going unnoticed as a fairly private industry is at the core of the current problem, exacerbating the industry’s plight for faster action.
De Stoop believes that the way the industry has been built is a major problem, as it promoted the notion of living in the shadows, being low-key and forgotten.
“The reasons behind that are that nobody wanted to pay taxes, nobody wanted to be heavily regulated so, for the majority, the players in the sector have chosen tiny, discrete, less influential and certainly tax-friendly places for their incorporation,” he adds. From Stoop.
Shipowners, particularly in the container shipping sector, are known for their preference to register in countries known as tax havens and have been criticized for this on numerous occasions, as those countries often have very little voice in enforcement. international conventions and promote higher industry standards.
According to a 2017 study by Seaintel Maritime Analysis, “essentially there has been a constant shift towards tax havens throughout the period from 1980 to 2017, from 12% of the tonnage marked in tax havens in 1980 to 74% in 2017, the majority of which were registered in Liberia and Panama ”.
“Going forward, this is not a good solution, because if you think of Panama, the Marshall Islands or the Bahamas, you have to think about what kind of influence they have when we are faced with a global problem,” De Stoop said. that is little, “he added.
As Euronav’s CEO explained, countries that are tax havens often lack the economic power to make their voice heard in major organizations and to pressure or influence decision-makers to act. “That is something that needs to be changed and I think it can be changed gradually,” he says.
“There are many private companies in the world of shipping that do not want to be the center of attention. The upshot of that is that when people hear about shipping, they only hear about the bad stuff: oil spills, sinks, and accidents. If you want to correct this perception, you must come forward and be willing to talk about the industry much more than we have done in the past. “Adds the interviewee.
“It has to be our decision to talk about the industry and not be obliged to talk about it because there is an event that must be addressed, which is usually bad,” he concluded.
The lack of appreciation for seafarers and their work has been frustrating, to say the least. Despite incessant calls from the industry, it seems like the good guys end up paying the price, as has been the case with the Maersk Etienne team. The tanker has been stranded at sea for more than a month after rescuing migrants from Tunisian waters, awaiting a solution from the port authorities for the disembarkation of the affected people.
According to ICS Secretary General Guy Platten, the battle for a solution continues.
It remains to be seen whether seafarers around the world will have to use their tools to finally be heard, or a new alliance of industrial powers or port states will be seen to get the message across.