Pretoria: 10 June 2021
A ‘fair future’ for seafarers globally should be a shared responsibility between seafarers and the rest of other relevant stakeholders – and that is the view of seafarers themselves according to a current poll being conducted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)
This global seafarers’ view is emerging solidly a few weeks ahead of this year’s international marking of the Day of the Seafarer on June 25 (a Friday) as driven and directed by the IMO along with its Member States, including South Africa.
In the poll currently being conducted by the IMO on its social media pages, among seafarers who responded to a question: “Who should be responsible for a fair future for seafarers”; an overwhelming majority (54%) call it a “shared responsibility”.
Against the backdrop, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) working jointly with the Department of Transport has confirmed that its marking of the Day of the Seafarer this year would be closely aligned to the issue, consistent with the IMO’s theme for the celebrations on June 25.
In invitations circulated to maritime sector stakeholders this week, SAMSA states that: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers found themselves both on the front line of the global response and subject to difficult working conditions. Last year the Day of the Seafarer campaign focused its message around urging Governments to recognize seafarers as key workers and ease travel restrictions for them to facilitate crew changes.
“The 2021 Day of the Seafarer campaign will continue to encourage Governments to support seafarers amid the pandemic but will expand its message, calling for a fair future for seafarers. You are therefore urged to join the virtual event where various speakers and seafarers will highlight the plight of our seafarers and the plans that the Government and its partners have to ensure that seafarers are treated fairly,” says SAMSA.
Among issues likely to feature prominently at the event on June 25 may be the outcomes and insights of a recent South African seafarers survey conducted by University of KwaZulu-Natal academic and author, Dr Shaun Ruggunan focused on their personal experiences of the impacts of Covid-19 over the last year.
Dr Ruggunan’s survey supported by SAMSA was conducted from March to end of May this year and its results are currently being collated and studied.
From a Government perspective, notably the UKZN survey took place shortly after South Africa in February 2021 joined other IMO Member States in declaring seafarers as ‘essential workers’ – a recurrent theme in the industry globally in 2020 since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China in 2019, and which campaign gained huge support from many organisations worldwide, among them the United Nations.
However, the declaration of seafarers as essential workers earlier this year, even as singularly highly significant, was but one aspect of a basket of sought industry reforms with regards seafarers’ general welfare and work conditions, and some of which continue to be highlighted in a series of regional webinars driven by IMO, its Members States and affiliated organisations.
The first of the IMO regional webinars focused specifically on the question of “Challenges faced by seafarers and identification of best practices during Covid-19 pandemic” was held virtually online for the Eastern and Southern Africa on 21 October 2020, with the lineup of speakers including IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and representatives of UN-OSAA, Stella Maris, ICS as well as Member States: Kenya, South Africa and the Seychelles.
The webinars have since covered Eastern and West Africa, East Asia, Western Asia and Eastern Europe as well as the Arab States and Mediterranean regions and Latin America
Now, in the lead up to this year’s Day of the Seafarer, the IMO also embarked on the social media poll, where it is asking seafarers across the world to respond and share their views on a number of issues affecting their work and general welfare.
On Covid-19 impacts and about which an IMO asks in one of the question: ‘what is most important for you for your future as a seafarer’, most seafarer respondents (41%) believe it be to be “quarantined access to repatriation and crew change”, followed by “priority vaccinations” (24%), “safe working conditions” (19%) and “enforcement” (16%).
On another question about whether seafarers believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the future of seafaring and in what direction, the majority seafarers’ view (73%) is that the pandemic has, and for the “worse” while only 15% believe it has done their trade a world of good, and 13% saying it has made no difference.
On the question of the IMO’s campaign in 2021 for a “fair future for seafarers”; 54% of participants feel it has to be a “shared responsibility” with only three (03) percent saying seafarers should be directly and solely in charge, while the rest are split unevenly between a view that it should be “IMO/ILO/Governments” (31%) and that it should be “shipping companies” (12%).
Among the seven questions posed to seafarers by the IMO so far is also one about “what area most needs improvement to ensure a fair future for seafarers” and to which the majority view (46%) suggests it to be “the workplace”, followed by “salaries” (30%), “training” (13%0 and “safety on board” (12%).
On the gradual encroachment of autonomous ships, according to their responses, most seafarers are either “excited” (25%), “unconcerned” (22%) or “accepting” (14%), with only 36% expressing the view that they are “worried”.
On climate change; most (59%) say they are onboard with mitigation efforts while seven (7%) and five (5) say they either could not be bothered (“not my personal responsibility”) or regard it as “unimportant”.
In explaining the seafarers view poll on its social media platforms, the IMO says: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers found themselves both on the front line of the global response and subject to difficult working conditions surrounding uncertainties and difficulties around port access, re-supply, crew changeovers, repatriation, etc.
“In light of this, the 2020 Day of the Seafarer campaign focused its message around urging governments to recognize seafarers as key workers and ease travel restrictions for them to facilitate crew changes. The 2021 Day of the Seafarer campaign will continue to encourage governments to support seafarers amid the pandemic but will expand its message, calling for a fair future for seafarers. The campaign will discuss issues that will still be relevant to seafarers after the pandemic, such as fair treatment of seafarers, fair working conditions (in line with ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention), fair training, fair safety, etc.”
For more on this, please on click on the IMO General Secretary, Mr. Kitack Lim ‘s official message for Day of the Seafarer 2021 below.
Meanwhile in Pretoria, according to SAMSA, South Africa’s marking of the Day of the Seafarer 2021 on Friday, June 25; will be conducted in similar fashion as last year, virtually online, from 9am and ending at 12 noon.