IMO raises concern on seafarers safety as ships are denied entry


A ship docks at Mombasa Port. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is concerned on the safety of seafarers at the sea as countries continue to deny ships entry to ports due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The organisation says the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The disease has so far claimed more than 9,800 lives globally with more than 232,650 cases in 158 countries and territories.

Several cruise ships have been stranded at sea after they were denied entry to ports due to confirmed coronavirus cases in the vessels.

Countries have also closed its borders to avert the spread of the disease. This has left thousands of cruise ship passengers stranded on the high seas while their vessels seek a port at which to dock.

Australia has banned international cruise ship arrivals for 30 days, while the New Zealand government has announced a prohibition on cruise vessels from entering its territorial waters for more than three months.

Pacific and Caribbean countries have been unilaterally refusing permission for ships to berth for several weeks.

Last week, Norwegian Jewel, sailing under the flag of the Bahamas, was refused permission to dock in French Polynesia, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

No passengers were allowed off the ship in Pago Pago and it is unclear where they will ultimately be permitted to disembark although there are no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus on board. The ship, with a capacity of more than 2,000 passengers, left Sydney in February.

But the IMO Secretary General Mr Kitack Lim now wants member states to remember the hundreds of thousands of seafarers on ships who are ‘unwittingly’ on the front line of global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Their professionalism ensures that the goods we need are delivered safely with the minimal impact on our precious environment. These are people usually far from home and family. Their own health and welfare is as important as anyone else,” he said.

Mr Lim called for a practical and pragmatic approach in these unusual times to issues such as crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey, certification and licensing of seafarers.

“Together with our industry partners and colleagues in the World Health organisation, IMO has been developing and issuing practical guidelines on variety of matters related to coronavirus,” Mr Lim added.

He said he would personally initiate a series of meetings and consultations with the leaders from shipping, ports and other related sectors for a common understanding on critical issues the world is facing in a bid to develop sensible, practical and unified solutions.

He said the safety at sea and protection of marine environment must also remain paramount.

“One of the goals of the IMO as stated in its convection is to ensure availability of shipping services to the commerce of the world for the benefits of humanity. I urge all IMO member states to bear this in mind when framing their policy decisions with regards to Covid-19,” he said.

Mr Kim said defeating the virus must be the first priority but the global trade in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner must continue.

The IMO Secretary-General said the spread of coronavirus had placed the world in an unprecedented situation.

“To slow the spread of the disease and mitigate its impact, travel is being curtailed and borders closed. Transport hubs are being affected, ports are being closed and ships denied entry,” he said.

Mr Lim said during these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and the seafarers to deliver vital goods including medical supplies and foodstuffs will be central to responding to and evuantully overcoming the pandemic.

[email protected]