Russian Captain Andrei Kogankov along with his oil tanker crew is stranded at sea for about 4 months now owing to global lockdown.
Going home after ending the contract is a dream for most of them now. The lockdown is global, borders are shut and international flights are suspended to curb the virus spread.
According to the International Chamber of Shipping, about 1,50,000 are stranded at sea and about 1,50,000 are waiting to get back on board. This is, therefore, a crucial time for crew exchange.
Shipping companies, trade unions, International shipping organizations want the government to recognize seafarers as essential workers carrying out essential services and lift restrictions so that they can travel and carry out crew changes. Crew change is essential as it ensures employment and also makes sure that the crew workers on board get enough rest for their next voyage.
Even if these seafarers are out of sight, they are absolutely essential for the movement of food, fuel, medical supplies, and goods and form the lifeline of global trade. The risk is more if the goods are flammable and perishable. Moreover, the ambiguity and confusion along with physical and mental exhaustion add to high levels of anxiety and depression that are demoralizing and often results in attempts of self-harm.
Many instances of suicides by crew members have been reported since lockdown. Moreover, lockdown at ports makes it impossible to visit a doctor and seek medical aid even for non-COVID patients.
There seems a lack of global cooperation among countries and shipping entities. The need of the hour is to ensure that proper medical treatment is given to the seafarers. Governments should take adequate steps to enable crew changes by making policies, recognizing shipping and cargo industries as essential services, and thereby allowing the circulation of essential goods.
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