Union criticises satellite providers for failing to give crew free internet

Nautilus has criticised plans by satellite service providers to offer crew stuck onboard discounted internet and telecommunications services, calling for free access globally.

Thousands of seafarers are now stuck onboard ships unable to disembark due to coronavirus restrictions with many ports refusing crew changeovers and flight bans in most countries.

Crew are at risk of fatigue and mental health issues and many are reporting increased stress levels to the Union. Communication with home is the number one welfare concern of seafarers, and the link with family has become even more important during the pandemic.

Global satellite provider Inmarsat and shipboard internet solutions provider KVH Industries have been urgently requested to enable free calls by ISWAN, on behalf of Nautilus and other trade unions, seafaring charities, the UK Chamber of Shipping and international maritime medical experts.

International Seafarer Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) executive director Roger Harris said: ‘We welcome the efforts by ship owners and managers to provide free and cheap communications. However, there are still too many vessel operators who need to provide better and cheaper internet connections for seafarers onboard. At this challenging time seafarers are anxious about their families back home and everything should be done, including cheaper communications, to help alleviate their concerns.’

KVH has offered Crew Calling discounts for KVH customers and reduced costs for data upgrades for existing KVH customers.

KVH president and chief executive Martin Kits van Heyningen said it would also work with ISWAN to offer free calls to the SeafarerHelp hotline for seafarers on vessels with KVH service and would continue to enhance that initiative. 

In February Inmarsat added free additional call time for all users of its ChatCard voice service which seafarers pay for, Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout said.

Inmarsat has also been working with several shipowners to provide subsidised bandwidth to meet with the increasing bandwidth demands from vessels. In the next few weeks it will be announcing ‘further incentives that our wholesale partners can choose to use to provide further additional support to crew using our services’.

Inmarsat and KVH are due to speak with ISWAN, unions, charities and social partners on Wednesday 25 March to discuss further ways they could help seafarers. The Union will be pushing for free internet access to all crew.

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