Shipping & Logistics

Why seafarers are unsung heroes in war on pandemic

shipping line
Seafarers play a crucial role in shipping operations at sea. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The outbreak of coronavirus has greatly disrupted flow of goods across the globe. However, a cadre of players in shipping is braving the risks and challenges posed by the pandemic to ensure globe supply lines, especially for essential goods, are kept operational.

Among those working to maintain the flow of vital goods across the globe are seafarers.

During the Seafarers Day on June 25, Shipping and Maritime Principal Secretary Nancy Karigithu said this group of sea workers have kept global trade alive despite the problems posed by the outbreak of the Coronavirus.

This, she noted, include ensuring goods such as food, medicines and medical supplies reach different parts of the world.

“Many times we see stocks in our stores, cargo arriving at the port, fuel at the depots... the truth is that most of these goods come via the sea. We have men and women working hard to keep the global trade afloat,” said Ms Karigithu.


According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), seafarers have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis which has led to difficult working conditions including; uncertainties and challenges on port access, re-supply, crew changeovers and repatriation.

Ms Karigithu said despite their commitment, seafarers have however been forgotten and many are suffering mental depression as they are mostly away from home.

“There is no crew replacement, no shore-leave for the seafarers due to the Coronavirus pandemic and this is depressing and draining,” Ms Karigithu said.

KMA Director General George Nyamoko Okongo said the seafarers who are operating in various oceans amid the pandemic should be saluted for their sacrifice.

“I know some have been sailing for too long and as a result of the travel restrictions they are unable to disembark to get rest as it is required as per their various contracts, and others who cannot sign off to be with their families,” he told Shipping & Logistics in June.

“This is a big sacrifice. As an authority we acknowledge it is not easy to be at the sea for those prolonged periods of time, sailing and at the current sea state where the conditions are not that favourable. I know it is a big challenge on-board a ship taking into consideration social distancing is a must.”

This year’s campaign paid tribute to the seafarers, acknowledging their sacrifice and the issues they face.

“...the ability of seafarers to deliver vital goods is central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic,” reads a statement on the IMO website.

Maritime players agree that there is need for seafarers to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve so that they can continue to provide vital services and keep the world trade moving.

“Every year we celebrate seafarers with the Day of the Seafarers campaign. Even in good times, they are the unsung heroes of the global economy as more than 80 percent of global trade is made by sea,” said IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim.

He noted that ships have continued to trade, and most ports are opened to transport vital supplies, thanks to the commitment by the seafarers.

“I have been amazed and impressed with the dedication, professionalism and resilience of seafarers as they have faced the inability to conduct crew changes or to be repatriated, lack of access to medical care, personal protective equipment and denial of shore leave,” Mr Lim said.

IMO, he said, has worked with member states, trade unions, seafarers’ organisations, shipping industry and other United Nations agencies to find solutions to these problems.

The IMO secretary general said he has been urging member governments to recognise seafarers as key workers who need quick and decisive humanitarian action from their governments.

Seafarers in Kenya have for quite some time complained of poor working conditions and without being recognised by the government through the maritime department.

“Just like other key workers, seafarers are on the frontline in this global fight. They deserve our thanks. But they also need and deserve quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere, not just during the pandemic, but at all times,” he added.