COVID-19 border closures cause humanitarian crew change crisis at sea

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many countries to close their borders to travellers, in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Given the initially indiscriminate travel restrictions adopted in March 2020, many seafarers have been stranded on their ships, well beyond their initial labour contracts. Notwithstanding repeated calls by the United Nations, the shipping industry, and maritime unions to designate seafarers as “key workers” in all jurisdictions, many countries still do not allow crew change. While crew change is however generally possible in many ports, the number of people stranded at sea remains unacceptably high, which signals wide-spread breaches of the United Nations 2006 Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006). This humanitarian crisis needs to be resolved soon, as its continuation risks eroding the hard-won Maritime Labour Convention.

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