The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), one of the world’s largest maritime registries, with more than 4,700 vessels and nearly 100,000 seafarers serving on RMI-flagged vessels encourages countries to recognize and protect seafarers as key transport workers amid restrictions around the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
During times of crisis, seafarers play an essential role in moving not only food and household goods, but also fuel, medicine, equipment, and critical supplies to places in need. While there are lists of precautions to be taken to avoid catching COVID-19 and consideration for those suffering its effects or in quarantine, there is little attention paid to the seafarers who keep global shipping moving.
Many countries have imposed travel bans and restrictions on crew changes in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. The unforeseen consequence of these travel bans is the prevention of the change of ships’ crews; either to join a ship or for crews to be relieved and return home to their families. The RMI Registry has received a number of complaints from operators and individual seafarers stating that the prevention of repatriation is adding to their emotional stress and adversely affecting their wellbeing. Seafarers typically spend many months away from their families.