Pretoria: 04 October 2021
South Africa may currently be accounting for no more than 0,65% (or 10 671) of registered world’s seafarers (approximately 1,7-million), but its commitment to contributing to their improved work and general social welfare conditions remains unwavering, according to the South African government.
To this end, confirmed South Africa’s Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula; the country has paved the way for all seafarers – domestic or international – to receive Covid-19 vaccination in the country subject to conditions periodically relevant in terms of domestic national lockdown regulations.
Mr Mbalula’s confirmation came in remarks he made in an opening address during the marking of the global celebration of World Maritime Day 2021 on Thursday last week. The Transport Department organised event held online and streamed live on social media occurred in the same week that the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) officially confirmed through a Marine Notice the extension of Covid-19 pandemic vaccinations to all seafarers on South Africa’s waters.
In terms of that Marine Notice (MN 19-21 [C+F+S+P]) dated 23 September 2021, all foreign seafarers in South Africa’s ports are eligible for vaccination, and to which a process guidline is provided. The South African government directive through SAMSA was given in support of efforts by various institutions locally and globally, including the International Maritime Organisation(IMO), the World Health Organisation and related, for seafarers to be prioritised for vaccination against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his World Maritime Day 221 celebration address to an online audience of about 124 guests, Mr Mbalula said this latest initiative served as an ample demonstration of the country’s full commitment to contributing positively and sustainably to the improvement of the working conditions as well as general welfare of seafarers across the world.
He described as it as befitting therefore that the 43rd ocassion of the world’s celebration of World Maritime Day 2021 as guided by the IMO, to which South Africa is a Member State, was given a theme focusing attention on seafarers: “Seafarers: At the core of shipping’s future“.
Mr Mbalula said South Africa’s geo-location at the most southern tip of the African continent, surrounded by three oceans; the Atlantic to the west, the southern ocean and the Indian Ocean to the east, with a coastline of some 3800km, and an oceans based 1.5-million square kilometers of an Exclusive Economic Zone, made it an undoubted maritime country. For the reason, almost the entire country’s foreign trade depended centrally on shipping, and by extension, on the singular critical importance of seafarers manning those vessels.
“Seafarers play a strategic role in shipping and yet also bare the brunt of challenges facing the sector but especially now during the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. South Africa is among IMO Member States that were first to declare seafarers as essential workers.”
For his full remarks (+-8 minutes), click on the video link below.
For its part, the IMO that was represented by Senior Legal Officer, Mr Jan de Boer, acknowledged with appreciation South Africa’s continued strong support of the United Nations body, even as 250 000 seafarers across many parts of the world are still facing an uphill battle during especially the period of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Mr de Boer, difficulty with crews changes, inability to work and in some instances, cases of abandonment of seafarers were still a massive challenge, as was the need to prioritise seafarers for vaccinations. This occured against the backdrop of a situation where only about 57 of the IMO’s 167 Member States had so far designated seafarers as essential or key workers.
Describing the situation of seafarers worldwide as a “humanitarian crisis”, he said movement restrictions were also still a major challenge this despite the existence of a framework of protocols established as well as resolutions by the IMO and associated organisations in order to help assist efforts towards addressing problems faced by seafarers.
For its part, said Mr de Boer, the IMO has in place a Seafarer Crisis Action Team that seafarers and related may direct inquiries for assistance.
For Mr de Boer’s full remarks (about 5 minutes), click on the video link below.
In SA, seafarers are essential workers
Meanwhile, according to SAMSA; continued engagement with seafarers is vital to ensuring an orderly, inclusive approach to both confronting the challenges facing seafarers as well as working out appropriate measures aimed at improving their working conditions and securing a sound social welfare future.
SAMSA acting CEO, Ms Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane recounted various steps the country has undertaken to address especially the pressing problems brought about by the outbreak of Covid-19 in China in 2019.
Over the past year since about May 2020, in addition to an early designation of seafarers as essential workers, the country sought to ensure limited restrictions of both vessels and their seafarers on South Africa sea waters while also making provision for both the extension of their certificates of competency and related, as well as facilitating for the renewal of passports.
Undertaken jointly with various government and private sector institutions in the maritime sector, similar measures relevant to seaferers in the fishing and related sectors such as leisure were also made thereby ensuring that no seafarers were left stranded while in or nearby the country’s borders.
She said: “… It is befitting that the IMO has made a clarion call to all of us to make 2021 a year of action for seafarers, who daily face unprecedented adversity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite their vital role as essential workers supporting global supply chains,
“As of this month, with the South African government having secured enough volumes of Covid-19 pandemic vaccinations for both South Africans and non-residents, SAMSA has facilitated for the vaccination of all Seafarers on our shores.
“We acknowledge that there is still more work to be done especially in ensuring that seafarers are fully recognised as “Essential Workers” in the country. Engagements with our partners are ongoing.”
Further, according to Ms Taoana-Mashiloane, similar to the IMO’s STAC, SAMSA as the country’s registrar of seafarers, also has a dedicated office to seafarers welfare that they can refer issues of interest or concern to, by email: email@example.com
For her full remarks, click on the video link below.