Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 300,000 seafarers are stranded onboard their ships [fr]
SEVENTY-FIFTH UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
HIGH-LEVEL SIDE EVENT ON COVID-19 AND MARITIME CREW CHANGES: A HUMANITARIAN, SAFETY, AND ECONOMIC CRISIS
STATEMENT BY Ms ANNICK GIRARDIN,
MINISTER OF MARINE AFFAIRS
New York, 24 September 2020
Good morning to all,
Today we are celebrating International Maritime Day. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the need to fully implement the Sustainable Goal number 14, “Life below Water”, and to recall that in doing so, we have an impact on at least 60% of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The sea is therefore, and I would like to remind it, a formidable territory of solutions.
But it is also an opportunity to stress that International Maritime Day, and especially in this time of crisis that we are going through, should be International Seafarers Day. The 1.6 million seafarers are essential but often invisible actors of globalization. They have allowed us to keep our economies going by ensuring their supplies and we could not thank them enough, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them once again.
These seafarers have worked unswervingly and yet, more than 300,000 of them are still stranded onboard their ships and very few ports enable the organization of crew changes. Nevertheless, solutions can be found by reconciling health security imperatives with the humanitarian ones. For example, France has set up a national crisis unit in order to guide and support requests from shipowners who were encountering difficulties. These measures have allowed at least 15,400 seafarers to transit through French territory, and to go home, or meet their ship, whatever their nationalities and flag of the ship they worked on.
I would also like to commend the efforts made by other countries. The Maritime Port Authority of Singapore has thus recently opened an autonomous center to support crews. But our individual initiatives are not enough, because that is what this is, these are individual initiatives, and we must to be honest about this. This new crew change crisis has largely been managed, by the port states. But it is imperative that flag states also play their part in the support they must provide their shipowners with.
France thus calls for more international cooperation, effective and permanent coordination that must be established between flag states and coastal states, in close collaboration with ports in order to scale up efforts. More precisely, I would like to put forth to you two concrete requests. First, I would like to propose that in each geographic area, secure ports be identified where crew changes can be carried out. I would thus like to invite the member states to submit to the IMO a list of infrastructures that can welcome crew changes so that flag states, port states, and shipowners can organize crew shifts and solve health emergency issues while guaranteeing people’s safety.
Secondly, I hope that we can submit to the ILO, with the support of Spain and Portugal, I would like to present an amendment to the Maritime Labor Convention. This amendment aims at requiring flag states to declare to the ILO situations where the maximum duration of service on board has been exceeded, beyond the twelve contractual months. The measure provides that compliance with the maximum duration of onboard service is imperative, except in cases of force majeure. These cases of force majeure have to be limited. We propose to confine the situations where there is no air transport and borders are closed, as we have seen in recent months. This is an important first step and the measure will be discussed at the ILO tripartite conference next April.
I would like to thank our partners who have already expressed their support and I hope that many of you who are listening to me, especially the states, will make this commitment before September 30. To do nothing, my dear friends, to look elsewhere, would expose our oceans, our seafarers and our economies to major risks. The solutions are within our grasp, so let’s act together.
Thank you very much.