EU must not abandon seafarers – whatever the flag under which they sail and whatever their nationality

9 Nov 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has trapped hundreds of thousands of seafarers. Even today, EU member states accept without a second thought that goods continue to arrive at their ports, yet they refuse to accept the seafarers stranded on the merchant ships. They treat these workers worse than the goods.

With the resurgence of the pandemic, the ETF is alerting the services of the EU and the Member States to the dramatic physical and mental health of seafarers stranded at sea and the deterioration of their family situation.

The European Union must step in and ensure that port States allow crew changes. Further, all European States must coordinate, through their consular services, to ensure the repatriation of seafarers stranded at sea. It is not generosity; it is an obligation under maritime law, incumbent upon them as a flag State.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 provides that:

  • “Each Member shall ensure that seafarers on ships that fly its flag are entitled to repatriation /../ if the seafarers’ employment agreement expires while they are abroad.”
  • “If a shipowner fails to make arrangements for or to meet the cost of repatriation of seafarers who are entitled to be repatriated, the competent authority of the Member whose flag the ship flies shall arrange for repatriation of the seafarers concerned; if it fails to do so, the State from which the seafarers are to be repatriated or the State of which they are a national may arrange for their repatriation and recover the cost from the Member whose flag the ship flies.”
  • The right to repatriation exists from the end of the contractual engagement period.
  • All the costs of seafarers disembarked while awaiting repatriation (accommodation,
    food, medical care) must be covered by the shipowners, by mobilising the compulsory insurance they have taken out.
  • The time spent awaiting repatriation and the duration of the voyage should not be
    deducted from the paid leave that the seafarer has accrued.

Any refusal to repatriate and any automatic extension of the contractual service period violate these fundamental principles.

To alert EU Commissioners to the continuing crisis onboard ships and the urgent need for member states to act, ETF addressed a letter to Commissioners Vălean, Schmit and Johansson today. You can read the letter here.

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