COVID-19: Seafarers’ unions secure workers’ repatriation

27 Apr 2020


COVID-19 related measures by the EU Member States have had a severe impact on seafarers. Border closures and travel restrictions have created miserable conditions onboard ships. Many seafarers are stuck either onboard ships, in ports, or foreign countries after having been away from their families for months on end. Continuing to have to stay onboard can have severe consequences in terms of fatigue-related accidents. Ships also have to continue being manned when they are not operational, for maintenance and security reasons. And for ships to continue delivering essential goods to Europe, crew changes are crucial.

Luckily, seafarers’ trade unions affiliated to the ETF have successfully lobbied their governments to implement the existing EU and international guidelines on the topic. On the EU level, we have seen successes as well. Thanks to the efforts by the ETF and our social partner ECSA, seafarers are now included in the “key workers” group. This means that they are exempt from travel bans in key EU documents issuing guidance to the EU Member States, and EU Transport Ministers were urged to implement the guidelines accordingly.

Unions in Germany, Romania, and Montenegro, for instance, have notified us that they managed to have their national governments prioritise this issue.

In Germany, Ver.di was proud to inform us that seafarers are now being allowed to enter Germany to sign up on board as well as to leave Germany for repatriation, regardless of their nationality. Seafarers who do not show any COVID-19 specific symptoms can disembark or sign on without quarantine requirements.

Romania also decided to include seafarers under the scope of key workers. Thanks to the hard work and efforts of the Romanian Seafarers’ Union SLN who closely worked with all the respective ministries, seafarers can now freely move to and from vessels to join a ship or return home. The union is also involved in the organisation of charters in collaboration with Barklav Romania, facilitating seafarers’ travel and necessary crew changes. Union members can get tested before leaving the country thanks to the union donating 3000 tests to the Urgency Clinic Hospital in Constanta.

The IUWMST from Montenegro happily reported that their Ministry of Transport and Maritime affairs had coordinated seafarers’ transit through the airports of Zagreb and Frankfurt with the Croatian and German authorities. Additionally, charter flights are being organised, and Montenegrin seafarers are now permitted to enter the Port of Bar.