The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has called on United Nations (UN) system agencies to support its bid to categorise seafarers, port personnel and maritime workers as crucial key personnel to ensure they are not limited in their movements and to ensure ships deliver goods on time during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has asked all countries especially port states to include the group among those offering crucial services and by doing so, ship delays will be cut significantly during this period.
Addressing other UN chiefs and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres during virtual meeting last week on the impact of Covid-19, Mr Lim said among other things, disruption and restrictions to travel of such groups has affected trade flows, global logistics, supply of food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.
"Since Covid-19 was declared pandemic, major travel restrictions to crew are being increasingly imposed by governments, this has caused ship delivery delays and its a big concern to us, especially those offering essential goods," he said. He added, "Seaborne trade is still flowing but challenges are growing due to restrictions being introduced by port States."
Mr Lim highlighted the importance of welfare and well-being of maritime personnel and particularly seafarers and the significance of crew changes to support the global supply chain.
The organisation has made a series of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector.
The circular letter specifically calls on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as 'key workers' providing an essential service. Referring to the issue of crew changes, it says professional seafarers and marine personnel should be granted any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions to allow them to join or leave ships, and that governments should permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (that is, to an airport) to allow crews to be changed and seafarers to be repatriated.
In the Circular Letter, the Secretary-General referred to the outcome of the G20 Leaders' Summit on Covid-19 on 26 March 2020, in which the G20 leaders committed to continue working together to facilitate international trade and co-ordinate responses in ways that avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
Mr Guterres stressed the need for coordinated global, but also regional and local, approach to address the crisis and appealed to all UN-system agencies to work together.
More than 34 countries out of 54 in Africa have imposed full border closure while some having introduced partial lockdown and curfews. During this period, only groups categorised as offering essential services are allowed to freely conduct their businesses. In Kenya, for instance, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) workers, seafarers and maritime personnel are not categorised under this group hence they are limited to travels hence causing ship delays.
Due to this, operations at the port of Mombasa have been scaled down with workers only operating between 6am to 4pm thus affecting time of ships delivering cargo at the facility due to delayed clearance of vessels.
The KPA management has since cut the number of shifts from four to two and has also asked the majority of staff to work from home since March 27 when the 7pm-to -5am curfew was imposed.
Operations at the Port of Mombasa may be reduced further this week after two more KPA staff tested positive for Covid-19 apart from the one who succumbed to the disease a week ago.
Acting KPA Managing Director Rashid Salim has confirmed in a letter seeking accommodation at Bandari Maritime Academy to quarantine 16 staff who were identified as having interacted with one of the patients.
"The KPA has had two of its staff test positive for the Covid-19 and it has therefore become necessary that 16 other staff who were working with one of the affected to quarantine," read a section of the letter.