COVID-19: Unions providing a welcoming space for seafarers in Antwerp

8 May 2020


International Seamen’s House is familiar to many seafarers that have stopped in Port of Antwerp. The Antwerp Harbour hotel (AHH) has been co-governed by trade unions for many years, they sit on the board of directors and ensure that the seafarers are at the forefront of all decisions. Most of the time, it operates as a regular hotel, with accommodation for seafarers partly subsidised by the City of Antwerp. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic though, its role has grown significantly. While most hotels closed their doors, the AHH remains open for various maritime companies that temporarily let their staff stay overnight, towage companies, pilotage, and seafarers.

Seafarers have been facing many issues related to crew changes lately, caused by various travel bans and quarantine measures. Unions have addressed this problem and started to offer hotel accommodation for seafarers that come to Antwerp to begin their voyage. Because they arrive from a foreign country, they must enter quarantine before they are allowed to join a ship, and unions have made it possible for them to spend this time in the House. It’s a service they offer to the shipowners, who have been facing difficulties in ensuring regular crew changes while the extraordinary travel measures are in place.

The seafarers on ships are also provided with some services during this time – workers of the Seafarers’ House welfare shop go to the vessels regularly, making sure that the seafarers have access to products such as sim cards. The current situation can cause a lot of distress among seafarers, and access to the different means of communication with their families is critical for their welfare.

The infrastructure that the unions have developed has proven invaluable during this time of crisis, assisting in crew changes and protecting health and safety. They plan on developing the services they offer to seafarers even further in the near future. At the beginning of this year, expansion works started. The space offered to seafarers’ welfare will be enlarged, the shop will be renovated and all welfare organizations will soon be housed together in the Seamen’s House. That way, seafarers will be able to find all the assistance they might need in one place. All this was made possible with the support of the ITF welfare fund and the good cooperation of trade unions and the management of the AHH.