Estimated 400,000 seafarers trapped on ships | Sunday Observer

Estimated 400,000 seafarers trapped on ships

1 November, 2020

When his ship pulled into anchorage at Santos in Brazil last week, “Alona” had been at sea so long, he had missed his own wedding.

The assistant engineer from the Philippines had been on the same ship for nearly 16 months, despite three attempts to go home. He had not set foot on land since a brief shore leave in August 2019 and he almost never had a day off.

“I have daily jobs and reports which require me every day to work. Even on the weekends,” says “Alona”, who did not want to use his real name because he’s worried he won’t get any more work if he’s identified.

Nine other crew members had been on board for just as long. It had taken a mental toll on everyone. Tempers sometimes frayed and morale was low.

An estimated 400,000 seafarers are waiting to go home. Most are trapped on ships because port authorities fear new Covid-19 infections and don’t want them ashore. In some countries, crew changes are banned outright, while in others restrictions make them difficult to carry out.

Many are stuck on ships, often beyond the maximum of 11 months allowed under international treaty. Unions say it’s a violation of their rights or even tantamount to forced labour. Some multinationals are also unhappy, because they fear industrial action could bring international shipping to a grinding halt.