Cross-border union cooperation results in repatriation of sick seafarers

20 Jul 2020

Two weeks ago, ETF’s Maritime Section received an enquiry about Schengen Visas from Russian affiliate Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR). They aimed to find a way to repatriate seafarers that were at the time on board a vessel in Gdynia and were suffering from ill health. Cooperation between the national union in Russia (SUR), the ITF Inspectorate in Poland, as well as the European (ETF) and local authorities, resulted in successful repatriation this past Friday.


The vessel in question is MV Khatanga, a Russian ship operated by 9 Russian seafarers. All of them, at this point, work on renewed employment contracts, as their initial stay on board has been prolonged due to the effects of COVID-19. They have access to sufficient amounts of food and water on board, as well as have their salaries paid regularly. The issues arose, however, for three workers who have been suffering from high blood pressure. While they were receiving their medication, a prolonged stay on board could take a more serious toll on their health. Any repatriation process would be challenging, though, as it would require them to cross borders between a Schengen country (Poland, where the ship is docked), and a non-Schengen home country, Russia, without any delays that could affect their health and safety.

To make sure that this could happen without any unnecessary complications, SUR contacted the ETF, that responded immediately and coordinated the efforts. After receiving the news and learning more about the situation with the essential help of the ITF inspectors, ETF contacted the Polish maritime administration and local border control authority for information on how the crossing of borders for these three seafarers could be facilitated. The Polish maritime administration and local border control authority offered clear instructions on the process, such as information on border controls and ways to issue a successful request for crossing the border. The Russian union SUR was then able to use this information and talk to the shipping company, to ensure that they play their role in the process and ensure that the seafarers are repatriated safely. As a result of this cross-border cooperation, repatriation happened last Friday.

It was the joint actions of unions – national, European, and global – and engaged national authorities that helped these seafarers return home. And while such individual success stories are important, they also demonstrate the critical need for governments to introduce comprehensive measures that will ensure that this happens smoothly and quickly – in all cases. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stranded globally, and working on each case one by one will never get them home.

ETF urges governments to act now. Only decisive action and coordination will ensure that seafarers are treated fairly and granted the fundamental rights to crew change, shore leave, and medical attention.