How to address seafarers’ COVID-19 challenges?

Comprehensive action to address seafarers’ challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic – A pragmatic approach to human rights at sea


The COVID-19 pandemic posed severe challenges for flag states, port authorities, shipping- and crewing companies. Crew changes were severely hindered since international shipping and Governments were unable to facilitate crew changes and unable to respond effectively to these challenges.

Restrictions and delays of crew changes and repatriation, including the measures implemented by countries, brought serious operational consequences, and caused a humanitarian crisis at sea.

Consequently, mariners and seafarers faced the risk of extreme fatigue, physical and mental health crises, increasing the risk of maritime casualties that include collisions, allisions and groundings. Maritime labour rights and basic human rights could not be secured and protected.

Without humans, ships cannot move goods or provide services. Thus, the crew change crisis highlighted a severe risk for our global supply chain.

In February 2022, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), UNCTAD and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments, the shipping industry and other stakeholders to scale up efforts to safeguard seafarer health and safety to avoid supply chain disruptions during the ongoing pandemic.

Many seafarers today, are still

  • forced to remain working onboard vessels beyond the expiry of their contract
  • unable to go on shore to receive medical treatment or travel freely
  • abandoned by their employers and left isolated on board ships without help or support
  • not given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • not considered to be ‘key workers’

The severe risk for human wellbeing and risks for the global supply chains require further action from all parties concerned worldwide.

Current mandates of UN organizations do not go beyond urging member states to follow UN Resolutions. A holistic approach is needed to ensure that all parties within the maritime industry take action, further pushing UN objective, furthering the mandate of the International Maritime Organization.



Northeast Maritime Institute offers seafarers the opportunity to be educated, certified, and licensed though online education, simulation and examination tools called NEMO° and HALO°.

By providing seafarers globally with these tools and support, NEMO° helps to improve their physical health, welfare and well-being. NEMO° is currently developing online tools to improve the physical health, welfare, and well-being of seafarers, at no additional expense.

These tools will create an opportunity for maritime health professionals to offer their services online and globally. This unconditional support will not only benefit people but will also allow for greater operational safety and mental health.

The Center for Ocean Policy and Economics (COPE°) links academic, corporate, non-governmental, and governmental partners to create impactful solutions.

COPE° enables people to work on driving necessary change in the maritime sector, with ethical and humanitarian values guiding those efforts.

COPE° is able to facilitate opportunities for change and drive ocean policy and economic development project initiatives to create impactful solutions.


  1. designate seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ in order to facilitate shore leave and safe and unhindered movement across borders, recognizing relevant documentation carried by seafarers as evidence of this status, which would entail the application of temporary measures including (where possible under relevant law) waivers, exemptions or other relaxations from any visa or documentary requirements;
  2. consider the implementation of the Industry recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (MSC.1/Circ.1636/Rev.1, as may be revised);
  3. prioritize vaccination of seafarers, as far as practicable, in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, noting the advice of the WHO SAGE Roadmap4 for prioritizing the use of COVID-19 vaccines; and consider extending COVID-19 vaccines to seafarers of other nationalities, taking into account national vaccines supply;
  4. consider exempting seafarers from any national policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry, taking into account that seafarers should be designated as ʺkey workersʺ and that they travel across borders frequently;
  5. provide seafarers with immediate access to medical care and facilitate medical evacuation of seafarers in need of urgent medical attention when the required medical care cannot be provided either on board or in the port of call.

All IMO Member States and international organizations are urged to bring this resolution to the attention of all parties concerned.


This article is shared by courtesy of Northeast Maritime Institute –

For more articles about Covid-19, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button