Since the middle of March, the international maritime community has been making steps to characterize seafarers as key workers and therefore try to minimize their movement restrictions, imposed by the majority of countries due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

Towards this aim, IMO Secretary-General made a statement on March 19, ICS jointly with ITF issued an open letter on the same day and ECSA jointly with ETF have issued a similar open letter on March 18, all essentially stretching the need for free movement of seafarers and their importance to be seen as key workers assisting in the worldwide supply of goods.

These efforts have since been intensified. On March 27, IMO has issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6, consisting of a list of recommendations to be used by administrations for the facilitation of maritime trade. This list was compiled with the assistance of various important maritime stakeholders such as ICS, BIMCO, IACS, IAPH, IMEC, INTERCARGO, INTERTANKO, ITF, P&I Clubs and others. The topics of the list are timely access of vessels to berths/ports, port operations facilitation, health protection and more distinctly, the facilitation of crew changes in ports. Likewise, on April 4, ILO issued a comprehensive information note for maritime labour issues in association with COVID-19 and on April 8, the European Commission has issued a communication letter offering guidance on the health protection, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers and other persons onboard ships.

The International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), as part of the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) and ITF have agreed for a further extension of grace period for Employment Contracts that go beyond IBF/MLC maximum period, originally agreed until April 16, to be further extended until May 15, always mutually agreed with seafarers.

IMEC is also actively involved with maritime stakeholders like ICS and ITF towards preparing a course of action to be followed, when the travel restrictions for seafarers are lifted. Similarly, they are in talks with International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for in order to evaluate the expected movement of seafarers when ILO, IMO, WHO and local governments agree to alleviate restrictions. Towards this effort IMEC will be collecting information on seafarers’ number and respective crew nationalities, whose contracts expire by the end of the grace period, on May 15.