SAMSA joins University of KwaZulu-Natal for study of Covid-19 pandemic impacts on South African seafarers

Pretoria: 09 April 2021

With more than 133-million people globally infected by the Covid-19 pandemic and close on 3-million of these having succumbed to the virus as of Wednesday this week, the true full impacts of the virus on human society – a full year after its outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019 – have yet to be determined.

This notwithstanding, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the suffering by those already affected has been intense and among the victims already reeling from the impacts of the pandemic are millions of seafarers worldwide, thousands of them being South Africans.

It was for that reason that the agency, under the supervision of the Department of Transport, has thrown its full weight behind a survey undertaken by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) to collect information directly from South African seafarers that will assist indicate the nature and extent of the Covid-19 pandemic impacts on them.

The survey led by UKZN Professor Shaun Ruggunan, seeks to; “….investigate the impact of Covid on South African seafarers.  This survey specifically focuses on how Covid has impacted South African seafarer’s in terms of their work-life balance and the impact of Covid on their mental, emotional and physical well-being,” says the university in a statement.

Said Prof Ruggunan: “We hope that the survey will allow us to show how important seafarers are to the national and global economy and bring greater attention to their work and challenges during the pandemic. The results will be shared and potentially drive or inform policies of employee well-being for SA seafarers. The survey will benefit both employers, seafarers, agencies and seafarer labour market institutions.”

SAMSA File Photo.

Unregistered seafarers far more at risk of negative Covid-19 pandemic impacts

SAMSA

For SAMSA, the initiative was of critical importance and value in more than one respect with regards the country’s seafarers, according to Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe. Generally, he says, seafarers can be described as operating virtually under the radar – that is, taking up employment with various companies domestically and globally yet without formal registration, and therefore now currently suffering the impacts of Covid-19 without being noticed for assistance.

Mr Sibusiso Rantsoabe. Manager: OHS & Maritime Welfare. SAMSA

“The impact of Covid-19 has been felt worldwide. Seafarers have not been spared. Seafarers have been working throughout, as maritime transport is responsible for carrying 90% of world cargo by volume. It was essential that shipping continued to operate through various lockdown regimes implemented by different countries. This ensured that critical movement of supplies of food, medicine, including medical equipment remained unhindered during lockdown,” says Mr Rantsoabe.

However, several countries across the world inclusive of many that are South Africa’s trading partners in Asia, Western Europe and the American continent embarking on variable states of national lockdown to this day, seafarers struggled and continue to, with millions finding themselves unable to sign off in various ports around the world due to travel restrictions.

“Some seafarers including South Africans found themselves stuck in vessels for much longer periods than they signed for. This led to the situation being termed ‘the humanitarian crisis at seas’,” said Mr Rantsoabe, pointing to the intervention that soon ensued in the global maritime sector led by both the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other interested and affected parties, calling for seafarers to be declared “key workers”.

With the full backing of the United Nations, the intervention soon succeeded as the IMO, in a Circular letter No.4204/Add.35/Rev.4 issued on 05 February 2021 advised that 55 of its Member States, including South Africa had signed a resolution to declare seafarers “key workers”.

“This has not stopped seafarers suffering due to stringent travel restrictions still in place in various jurisdictions,” said Mr Rantsoabe, adding that because of this very fact, SAMSA – through its welfare section – continues to seek ways to ensure that the country’s seafarers are not left alone to battle with Covid-19 pandemic induced conditions at work.

“Hundreds of South African seafarers found themselves stranded in various parts of the world. SAMSA through its welfare programme managed to assist hundreds of seafarers reach home through various direct and indirect interventions which included advising shipping companies on the processes involved in travelling back to South Africa via repatriation flights and best routes for flying South Africans home. The interventions included direct contact with seafarers, employers of South African seafarers and NPO’s with interest in seafarer welfare. 

SAMSA File Photo

“There are still many seafarers that SAMSA could not reach especially cruise staff. Since these seafarers’ occupations do not fall under the SAMSA qualification framework, it was and remains impossible for SAMSA to understand the numbers involved. In addition, cruise staff generally leave the country through recruitment agencies that are not accredited by SAMSA. As such SAMSA is unable to account for them. It is important to note that ‘generally, SAMSA does not get to know when any seafarer leaves the country to take up employment overseas. This has proved to be a major problem as SAMSA struggled to quantify the problem and help required,” he said.

On the UKZN survey, Mr Rantsoabe said: “SAMSA was approached by UKZN for support on the study on impact of covid-19 on seafarer welfare. SAMSA having considered the aim and content of the study fully supports this study. UKZN committed to sharing the results with SAMSA which will provide the Authority with much needed information.

“It is very important that SAMSA gets a full picture of what is/was faced by seafarers during this difficult period. The results will assist SAMSA as we continue to advance the interest of seafarers in various forums within government. The study will also provide information that will help shape the Authority’s welfare offering. All seafarers are encouraged to complete the survey as it will help SAMSA better understand the impact of Covid-19 on seafarers,” said Mr Rantsoabe.

Meanwhile, Prof Ruggunan stated that: “Participation is voluntary, anonymous and confidential and no survey can be traced back to any individual. The survey takes approximately 6 to 7 minutes only and can be accessed on a phone or computer via the link provided (see headline pic above) or by clicking on the photo placed on the landing page of this blog platform, or one placed on the landing page of the SAMSA website.

For further information, alternatively queries; these may be directed to Prof Ruggunan either by email or mobile phone as follows: ruggunans@ukzn.ac.za, cell: 079 1970 743. Also, for all seafarer welfare issues, seafarers both South African and international can correspond with SAMSA through the following email address: welfare@samsa.org.za

End.


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