Quarantine measures taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lack of flights, have left many shipping crew members stranded in isolation and unable to return home.
Ports around Australia receive roughly 6,000 calls from container vessels each year, and many more thousands of general cargo ships. A report released by the ABC today shows that an estimated 300,000 seafarers around the world have not been able to leave ships and return when their contracts ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine measures, and a lack of flights, have left many crew members at sea for up to 14 months.
According to the report, seafarers are suffering from mental health issues, isolation and an understanding that there's nowhere in the world that's going to guarantee their repatriation, even after being onboard their ships over a year without a single day off. It is claimed that seafarers who are in control of cargo vessels are fatigued, tired and worried about their families back home. Captains, chief engineers, senior officers on board are screaming out for help.
The International Transport Workers Federation has called on the Federal Government to urgently set up a taskforce to facilitate crew changes across Australia, and allow seafarers to travel quickly and safely to and from seaports to airports; and to exempt seafarers from any caps on airport arrival numbers.
Some crew changes are happening, mostly in Queensland, according to the news report. A spokesperson for the Federal Transport Minister said that Canberra has been working with state governments, industry, port operators and unions to put arrangements in place enabling crew transfers to occur, while managing the risks of COVID-19 transmission. The spokesman acknowledged that contract extensions could not continue indefinitely.
WA Ports Minister, Alannah MacTiernan, said shipping companies should be required to do the crew changeovers at the destination port, in Singapore or China, where there is better access to onward flights.
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