By The Mondo e Missione Editorial Staff
There are still 150,000 maritime transport workers stranded on ships due to the Coronavirus emergency. There are even those who have not been ashore for 15 months now. The International Maritime Organization, which handles 90% of the world’s goods, has appealed for this sector to “be recognized as operators of essential services.”
Nine out of ten goods sold are transported by sea. What happens if a pandemic suddenly blocks maritime links between countries? This is the hidden tragedy that at least 150,000 seafarers in the world are experiencing in these weeks, due to the global Coronavirus emergency. According to the indictment by the International Union of Trade, every union in the sector has at least one worker in six, of the 60,000 or so container ships sailing the oceans, is being held “prisoner” aboard their ship. Local authorities of the countries where they are docked are blocking them from going ashore because of the stringent rules to prevent the spread of contagion.
It is a situation that has been dragging on for months now, one that still struggles to find a solution due to the recent increase in positive cases in areas crucial for maritime transport. There is an economic side to the problem, with added difficulty for the regions of the world that are coming out of the lockdown pressured to restart supplies for companies and the greater commercial network. Even more severe is the human side of the matter. Many countries do not allow ships to load and unload in ports, and sailors are restricted from going ashore, an edict that makes it impossible to replace crews, which should be a right guaranteed by international regulations. There are even paradoxical situations of seafarers who have been asea for 15 months now. The International Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that embarkation periods should never be more than 11 months. Workers’ organizations report an increasing number of physical and mental health problems linked to this situation.
That is why the IMO – the International Maritime Organization – launched an appeal on 25 June, the annual Maritime Workers’ Day, calling for this category to be granted the status of essential public service operators by governments. Above all, international cooperation is needed to take charge of this problem. It is estimated that even just for the replacement of crews would require the availability of immediate flights capable of moving at least 300 thousand people.
The network of Stellae Maris, the chaplaincies present in the ports all over the world, is on the front line of guiding seafarers in this challenging moment. Pope Francis wanted to address a message of closeness to the people of the sea at this challenging time. “Know that you are not alone and you are not forgotten,” he told them in a video message. “Your work at sea often keeps you away, but you are present in my prayers and in my thoughts, as well as in those of the chaplains and volunteers of the ‘Stella Maris’. The Gospel itself reminds us of this when it tells us about Jesus with his first disciples, who were all fishermen, like you. Today, I wish to send you a message and a prayer of hope, a prayer of comfort and consolation against all adversity. At the same time I encourage all those who work with you in the pastoral care of the people of the sea.”