Millions of seafarers worldwide continue to form the backbone of the global economy and yet their apparent invisibility as critical or essential workers remains a major challenge for especially South Africa – a situation lavishly laid bare by the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic since about a year ago.
According to KwaZulu-Natal University professor, Shaun Ruggunan more than a quarter of the approximately 4 500 South African seafarers working on ships abroad found themselves stranded at ports across the world after most countries, including South Africa, imposed variable regional lockdowns as part of the fight against the spread of the pandemic.
He was chatting to this blog on Monday this week about the launch of a South African seafarers’ survey last week aimed collecting as much information as is possible about their experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of the pandemic.
The main purpose of the survey, said Prof Ruggunan, was to understand the impact of Covid-19 on South African seafarers’ mental and physical well-being, with the survey’s findings planned to be shared generally with both maritime sector stakeholders, specifically employers and related, but also with the public.
Other beneficiaries include the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) – which has given its full support to the initiatives – other seafarer involved institutions as well as crewing companies.
“The survey will run for a month in order to allow for as many South African seafarers – a majority of The first purpose of the survey is to make seafarers visible by bringing to the public’s attention the role seafarers and the conditions under which they have fared during outbreak of the pandemic, so that people get to understand how important the sector workers are to all of us,” said Prof Ruggunan
He added that in addition to general public awareness, employers will also gain insight from the experience of the country’s seafarers while the survey’s findings may also contribute to necessary policy interventions that are evidence-based.
For the full chat, please click on the video below.
Meanwhile, the UKZN survey is one of two currently running, the other launched by SAMSA last Friday with a view to determining the training needs of seafarers and seafarer training institutions during this period of the Covid-19 pandemic
The SAMSA survey is the second step of its nature this year following to the announcement recently of a further seafarers’ certificates validity extension given South African seafarers whose time limited qualifications might have expired, in order to renew them.
The SAMSA survey, according to Chief Examiner, Mr Azwimmbavhi Nelwamondo will run until 23 April 2021.
Seafarers keen to participate in both surveys can follow these links below in order access the forms, both which take no more than 10 minutes to fill.
National survey launched on Wednesday to determine both training needs and availability of berths
Pretoria: 16 April 2021
The resumption of formal training of South African seafarers which was and continue to be severely negatively impacted largely by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic since a year ago, is set to go full steam ahead this year, subject to further determination of both training needs as well as berths available.
That is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) which on Wednesday launched a national survey targeting South African seafarers across the board including the fishing subsector, training institutions, seafarer recruitment agencies and employers.
The step is the second of its nature this year following to the announcement recently of a further seafarers’ certificates validity extension given South African seafarers whose time limited qualifications might have expired, in order to renew them.
The four months certificate validity extension through to 31 July 2021, was given to the maritime industry in the form of a Marine Notice No.10 of 2021 published on the SAMSA website on 31 March 2021.
The further extension granted was, according to the Marine Notice, in consideration that Certificates of Competency (COC) and/or Certificates of Proficiency (COP) issued in accordance with the International Convention of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, were generally valid for a period of five (5) years from the date of issue.
However, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic having disrupted virtually all aspects of life, SAMSA said in consideration of the predicament many seafarers and their employers were finding themselves in, it had decided to again grant an extension until 31 July 2021 to any certificate that might expire during the national lockdown and/or shortly thereafter.
In Pretoria on Wednesday, SAMSA announced the launch of the follow-up survey. SAMSA Chief Examiner, Mr Azwimmbavhi Nelwamondo said it would run until 23 April 2021, with its intention being to gather as much information as possible about the training and associated conditions currently affecting the targeted groups.
Mr Nelwamondo explained: “Since the pandemic hit South Africa, the government enforced a national lockdown which affected training of seafarers. SAMSA has tried to find the balance between safety of seafarers on all vessels and their safety whilst undergoing training.
“Further to balancing the safety aspects onboard ships and during training, a further balance must be found to ensure continuity of the training which has direct impact on the safety of individuals, ships, property and the marine environment,” he said.
Mr Nelwamondo further indicated that one of the challenges already acknowledged as an impediment to continued training of the country’s seafarers was an apparent scarcity of training berths.
“SAMSA has received information that there are not sufficient training berths for all seafarers with certain sub-sectors of the industry and they were therefore requesting an extension further than the dates set in the Marine Notice.
“With this survey, SAMSA thus wishes to establish, from the training providers – considering the pandemic – the status of availability of training berths ever since training resumed in the second half of 2020.
For his full remarks, click on audio below.
The SAMSA survey on South African training of seafarers is the second such seafarer survey currently underway – the other, conducted by University of KwaZulu-Natal and backed by SAMSA focused on the general welfare of seafarers particularly since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2019.
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.”
Unregistered seafarers far more at risk of negative Covid-19 pandemic impacts
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.
“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.
“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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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: email@example.com