COVID-19: Seafarers’ trying journeys

22 Apr 2020


At a time when a lot of people are required to stay home to help efforts to limit COVID-19 infections, several groups of workers have no opportunity to stop. Among them are seafarers, playing a pivotal role in ensuring our continuous access to goods from around the world. Their work, while it never really ceased, is experiencing several disruptions. Countries have been imposing travel bans and border closures, making crew changes difficult if not impossible.

Trade unions around the world and on different levels – from national to global – have been working on building solutions to this situation and finding ways to allow seafarers safe working conditions and the possibility to return home as planned. In the meantime, however, many seafarers continue to live on work on board, unable to reach home after months of work.

Today we share with you a story of Dutch captain Kees Wiersum, who presents some of the effects of this situation.


I’ve been working at sea for 43 years, and I’m used to everything this work throws my way. Despite all my experience, this current situation is unprecedented, and I believe more needs to be done to help out seafarers that are stranded around the world.

On my ship at the moment, it is Filipino sailors who suffer the most. They were supposed to stop their work after ten months on board, but for now, they remain with us, with no clear end in sight. This situation is extremely difficult for people – uncertainty about the future and about when you will see your family next. Even though the shipping company is trying to get them home, nothing has worked so far.

The uncertainty is what makes life on board difficult for the crew at the moment. As frustrations and fatigue grow, the risk of accidents increases. Seafarers have to deal with being away from home for an undetermined amount of time, while at the same time coping with a changeable work situation. At the moment, some countries don’t even let us enter their ports, and others want us to anchor for two weeks. Our next destination is Madagascar, and we have no idea what awaits us there.


If you understand Dutch, you can read more about his story in this interview:


Are you a transport worker impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? If you have a story to share, please contact:


Zala Turšič, European Transport Workers’ Federation
Communications Officer
+32 478 79 41 12

Begüm Boynukalin, European Transport Workers’ Federation
Communications Officer
+32 478 79 40 53