Analysis: Up To 600,000 Seafarers Stuck Aboard Vessels

Seafaring is already a lonely and dangerous job, ask the crew of the livestock carrier that sank in the China Sea last fortnight.
23 Sep 2020 12:56
Analysis: Up To 600,000 Seafarers Stuck Aboard Vessels
Seafarers struck out at sea.

The fate of up to 600,000 seafarers trapped aboard vessels in the middle of a global pandemic has been the ongoing sorry. Neither story has a happy ending or the salient lessons for our Pacific island states to pay close attention to in each event.

The other ongoing story is the fate of many of the world’s seafarers who can’t change over crews at the end of their contracts because of the pandemic. Of the more than one million mariners serving on international ships, the majority are also from poor or developing countries.

It is estimated over 600,000 have been caught out and are unable to return home to families or even physically get off their ships because of COVID-19 restrictions in almost all world ports. Seafaring is already a lonely and dangerous job, ask the crew of the livestock carrier that sank in the China Sea last fortnight.

But the irony of this situation is that finding a solution in the middle of a crisis is extremely difficult for an international industry that is extremely divided and highly competitive and has resisted the need for strong and binding international regulation for too long.

No solutions

And now it is the lowest common denominator, the human crew, that are paying the largest price. No solutions are in sight and situation deteriorates for those stranded on board and unable to leave, or those at home and unable to earn pay by joining their ships. Again, the poorest and weakest pay the highest price. Speaking of prices, shipping though is undergoing something of a profit boom. Last week, the spot price for box traffic, the container ships that move the world’s manufactured products, were breaking all records. Despite the global economic downturn, profits are at record levels on all routes except the Asia-Europe runs.

Breaking records

Oil tankers are also breaking all records, albeit this down from recent highs, because floating storage aboard the world’s tanker fleet is the cheapest way of hoarding the glut of cheap oil created as the oil cartels manipulate the market prices.

Shipping is an essential industry, moving 80 per cent of all goods and trade relatively cheaply around the world. Without shipping the world economic order would not exist and it remains essential for connectivity for our small island states. There is no substitute for the sheer bulk that shipping can carry.

But it is also a multi-trillion dollar industry that continues to make good profits for its owners and investors. But it must be better regulated and enforced if the poorest and weakest are not left, again, paying the ultimate price for its mistakes.

The Pacific needs to continue to be vigilant and to play an active and engaged role at International Maritime Organisation (IMO) if the risks to our countries and communities are to be protected in the future.

Edited by Karalaini Waqanidrola

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