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The sailors were left blocked by the pandemic

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For Raj, a captain of India, the impact of the pandemic came home when he was on the other side of the world. In March 2020, while preparing to take the direction of the oil tanker u Blue butterfly in Quintero, Chile, the government announced a general landing ban. This meant that the teacher he had to replace had to remain on board.

“We sailed to the United States, then to Europe. Only two and a half months later, when we arrived in Hamburg, we were allowed to leave the ship, ”Raj said.

Few professionals have felt the pressures of the crisis as acute as maritime ones – and as many areas of life return to pre-pandemic standards, the maritime industry is still struggling.

While u affected numbers have fallen, as of March this year, 200,000 seafarers were still on board merchant ships, unable to be repatriated and past the expiration of their contracts, according to estimates by the International Maritime Organization.

At any given time, about 1 million people work on cargo ships worldwide. Commanding boats play a vital role in providing medical equipment and ensuring the world continues to eat and stay entertained during locks. But since the outbreak of the pandemic, governments have often left equipment stranded, forced to spend much more time on ships without a land permit than international labor rules allow.

While maritime law in theory applies internationally, care has been inconsistent. “Seafarers are key workers but their treatment during the pandemic, whether their well-being, vaccination or relief, has really depended on individual governments and numerous maritime regulators,” said Rajesh Unni, chief executive of Synergy Marine Group , which provides ship management services and employs Raj.

“Our society tries to help, but some countries only have coverage bans [on disembarkation]”Said Raj, master of a team of 22 people.” A colleague was left on board for almost 14 months. “

The usual stint is six months and the maximum approved by the International Labor Organization is 11 months. “The US, the UK and Canada have treated seafarers as human beings. Others, however, especially some of those close to the Black Sea, do not have it – they act as if they are polluting and do not want contamination, ”Raj said.

Raymond, a captain from the Philippines who has worked on some of the largest mass carriers and container ships, recalled the tension as he waited months to board a ship that was to take charge in March 2020. ” my savings have dwindled and the bill has piled up. I was a little worried about the uncertainty. “

When he finally reached the ship – in Port Said, Egypt – last August, he found a burnt-out crew. “The captain I took over was in office for almost six months longer than he should have been, almost double his contract. It must have influenced their well-being. . . When you are a captain, even when you are at rest, you have the feeling of working, you have to always be thinking about the ship. ”

Talking to family and friends at home had been essential in relieving the tension, said Catherine Spencer, chief executive of the Charity of the Maritime. “The conditions that sailors had during the pandemic have really influenced mental health. One of the stressors is clearly not being able to communicate at all times when you are at sea.”

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In response, last month Synergy, along with Philippine Transmarine Carriers, another maritime management company, and Inmarsat, which provides maritime communication technology, launched WeTeam, a free 24-hour telephone line with consultants available in 14 languages. “The technology for better communication on ships is here.” It’s just that some shipping lines are better than others to supply, ”said Ronald Spithout, president of Inmarsat Maritime.

Raj said the advice was invaluable when the mental health of a member of his team deteriorated. “The officer had some problems with his friend, and it became a very difficult situation due to the pandemic. This was the first time I had experienced this, I wasn’t sure what to do. I called the hotline, I described his behavior, and they talked to him and they were very helpful…. He calmed down from that moment on, and he was able to land in India and return home. ”

While Raj thinks there are downsides to more on-board communication – unlimited Internet access, provided by Synergy for free during the pandemic, has left some crew showing up for tiring shifts – he and Raymond agree that they should be able to keep in touch. with loved ones that has been vital. “As a captain, you have to be aware of your emotional and mental well-being. But most Filipinos are not so comfortable with the openness and sharing of our feelings, “Raymond said.” You have to make sure they have constant access to communication so they can go and check on their family. “

It was also important to create a greater sense of reunion among its crews of mainly Filipino and Vietnamese sailors, Raymond added. “When I first got on board, after eating, people went straight to their cabins. . . What I’ve done is organize some events to promote camaraderie. ”That included karaoke, barbecue and sports games.

Raj agreed: “It was essential to get people out of the cabins and spend time eating together, in the smoking room, playing ping-pong.”

When the crew disembarks, the quarantine conditions vary. Raymond had a mandatory seven-day stay at a hotel in the Philippines; while conditions were fine for him, he had heard other complaints.

Some governments count seafarers as key workers, giving them priority in vaccination action. India has reduced the time between the first and second strike for sailors from 84 to 28 days, Raj said. The Philippines, a country that supplies a large portion of the world’s seafarers, also said the crew will be one of the first in line to receive vaccinations and that they should be prioritized for hits like Modern and BioNTech / Pfizer, which are more widely recognized internationally.

But it’s a mixed bag. “European nations, with their excess [vaccine] In the meantime, it needs to take a firmer lead in vaccinating its non-native seafarers, who in reality are the ones who will have to provide the very loads on which they depend, ”Unni said.

Seafarers are apprehensive that media coverage of events such as the Suez Canal blockade this year will focus on the impact on supply chains rather than the lives of those in charge of transporting more than 80 percent of the world’s goods in volume. They want greater public recognition.

“This is one of the noblest professions.” Just imagine if the maritime industry stops operating, even for a couple of hours, the world as we know it will stop, “Raymond said.” It’s time for people to understand how essential maritime life is. ”

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