The heads of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a joint statement calling on port and coastal states to allow seafarers to receive medical treatment.
Describing the problem as a “matter of life and death”, the joint statement also urges countries to prioritize seafarers for COVID-19 vaccinations and designate seafarers as key workers, recognizing the valuable contribution of seafarers to world trade.
The joint statement by ILO Director-General Guy Ryder and IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim describes the difficulties seafarers face in accessing medical care due to restrictions linked to COVID-19. It underlines “the obligation to guarantee seafarers immediate access to medical care ashore, whenever they need it, and to extend medical assistance on board when necessary by authorizing doctors and dentists. qualified to visit ships ”.
“Receiving such care can be a matter of life and death for seafarers who fall ill while working on ships. The international community should do everything possible to support those who have kept the global supply chain in pandemic conditions for the past 18 months and continue often despite enormous personal difficulties. “
The joint statement notes that “almost 14 months after issuing the ‘Recommendations for Port and Coastal States on the Prompt Disembarkation of Seafarers for Medical Care ashore During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, the seafarers still find it difficult to access this care when needed. Advocacy by Member States, the maritime industry, social partners and seafarers themselves has once again brought the plight of seafarers to the fore.
According to the ILO Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, as amended (MLC 2006), member states must ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory have access to medical facilities on land, if they need immediate medical attention, including dental treatment.
The legal obligation to provide assistance to seafarers in distress, including medical assistance, is also an intrinsic component of the IMO International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR); and the Convention for the Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL).
ILO and IMO leaders are also encouraging governments to recognize the role that other maritime personnel play in facilitating global trade and, where possible, to vaccinate them as a priority as well.
Twenty-four countries are currently implementing seafarer vaccination programs, or have indicated their intention to do so, at designated ports under their jurisdiction.
“We are extremely grateful to these countries, but we urge more to move forward to speed up, in particular, the vaccination of seafarers serving international shipping. Government agencies, industry, unions and seafarer welfare groups continue to work diligently to facilitate and / or provide vaccines to seafarers. However, much remains to be done. We will continue to work with our sister United Nations agencies, governments and industry bodies to meet the current needs of seafarers and protect their fundamental rights, so that they can continue to facilitate the global economy ”, indicates the joint statement.