Skip to main content

Seafarers 'to stop working' amid pandemic crew change delays

16 June 2020

Merchant navy seafarers stranded at sea for months due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions could now start refusing to extend their contracts and stop working, potentially disrupting global trade, the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) said.

Insufficient action by governments to designate seafarers as key workers and to exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions has led to around 200,000 seafarers being caught up in an urgent crew change crisis.

The ITF and affiliate unions including Nautilus international have warned that fatigued crews working for months after they were supposed to return home pose a threat to shipping safety, the environment and trade.

'Enough is enough. We have to draw a line in the sand and today is the day that we make it crystal clear to governments, that from June 16, seafarers are going to start enforcing their right to stop working and to return home,' ITF president and Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin said. 'No more contract extensions.'

June 15 was the final deadline agreed by ITF and the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) for safe crew changes to be implemented according to protocols agreed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

ITF Seafarers Section chairman David Heindel urged seafarers to 'Know your rights under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), as amended, and the responsibilities of different stakeholders on crew changes.'

ITF has produced guidance to seafarers on their rights to crew change, highlighting that the organisation believes the extension of employment contracts to 'no longer be an acceptable option' and reminds them that they can 'refuse any contract extension'. The guidance also covers shore leave, the International Safety Management (ISM) code, medical care and health and safety.

Responding to crewing level concerns, the ITF guidance states: 'You have the right not to perform any work if you have completed your contract, but you should be available for safety and emergencies, and DO NOT refuse to work while at sea. Wait until the ship is anchored or docked in port.'

Seafarers are reminded to contact their union, the nearest ITF inspector or the ITF using the contact information on the guidance.

Nautilus has produced further guidance for stakeholders, setting out seafarers rights under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), as amended and reminding them of the responsibilities of shipowners, flag states, port states, the important role for trade unions, and the financial security that ships must have in place.

General secretary of ITF, Steve Cotton, said: 'If getting seafarers off these ships causes chaos in supply chains, if ports back up from Singapore to San Francisco, and if this causes ship insurance providers to pull their coverage and global trade to grind to a halt; then that is on the heads of politicians, not the world’s seafarers.'

Mark Dickinson, Nautilus general secretary said: 'Some governments have performed notably well in facilitating crew changes, but a number have been severely lacking in their response.

'Nautilus Federation affiliates issued guidance to maritime professionals in May 2020 in order to mitigate the potential for criminalisation during this crisis. We are pleased to see ITF now providing further concrete information to seafarers on their rights.'

Reiterating the Nautilus Federation guidance, Mr Dickinson added: 'We stand ready to work with anyone seeking to get our members home or back onboard. To our members we say – if you feel it is necessary to take measures for the health, safety and welfare of your crew, we will support you in exercising your professional judgement in compliance with the widely ratified international standards. We have got your back.’


More articles


Unions back ships' officers as governments drag feet over crew changes

An influential grouping of maritime trade unions has publicly raised concerns about unsafe ship operations due to the tiredness and mental health of seafarers caused by extended tours of duty during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • News
  • 27 May 2020

Canada introduces new two-step entry visa system for crew changes

Transport Canada has announced new procedures for entry visas to permit crew changes, according to the Maritime Executive.

  • News
  • 16 June 2020

Hong Kong relaxes crew change restrictions

Hong Kong has announced 'unrestricted' crew changes through the region's ports and airports in response to joint action from unions.

  • News
  • 12 June 2020

Deadline day: UN calls on all countries to immediately facilitate safe crew changes

The secretary general of the United Nations (UN) has called on all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers, to ensure that crew changes can safely take place.

  • News
  • 15 June 2020
Education and training

Global shortage of ships officers to grow

A worldwide shortage of ships' officers is set to increase despite the damaging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, a new report has warned.

  • News
  • 11 June 2020
Education and training

Nautilus agrees extended sea time for cadets caught out by Covid pandemic

Nautilus has reached agreement with the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) to allow consecutive phasing of cadet sea time in response to training disruptions wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • News
  • 16 June 2020
Health and safety

Sharp rise in seafarers failing UK medicals due to mental health conditions

Maritime medics have raised concerns over a marked increase in the number of seafarers failing UK medical examinations as a result of mental health issues.

  • News
  • 16 June 2020

Union members urged to take the ITF crew change survey

Nautilus members are urged to continue to support the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) crew change survey being used to build a case for crew relief for thousands of seafarers.

  • News
  • 02 June 2020

Become a Nautilus member today