Director General of the Ghana Maritime Authority, Thomas Kofi Alonsi, has bemoaned the recognition given to seafarers globally – saying it needs to improve due to the high-risk occupation and enormous essence of their duties to the survival of economies. According to him, every sector of the economy greatly relies on the duties of seafarers – but many forget their essence immediately after their service.
Speaking at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Day of the Seafarer (DotS), Mr. Alonsi said: “The annual Day of the Seafarer was established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) with the main purpose of recognising the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole.
“The Ghana Maritime Authority is therefore appropriately celebrating this day to promote and recognise the enormous contribution of the seafarer whose occupation is on board a ship at sea. We share with the seafarer today the personal frustration that prevails at sea, and the exposure to a sorrowful exile of life on the sea as the seafarer pursues a career that is a vital support mechanism for the global economy.”
Data available show that an estimated 80 percent of global trade by volume and over 70 percent of global trade by value is carried by sea. This, according to him, reveals that the maritime sector – which includes shipping, ports and the people that operate them – is a wealth creator both on land and at sea, and need to be acknowledged for the significant role it plays in creating conditions for prosperity and stability ashore through promoting trade by sea.
The International Maritime Organisation is the United Nations Agency responsible for safety and security of shipping, and also recognises seafarers to be at the heart of the organisation’s work, for which reason seafarers are celebrated annually with the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ campaign.
In 2016, the Day of the Seafarer campaign celebrated seafarers by making known to the world how and why seafarers are indispensable. The Day of the Seafarer in 2017 and 2018 focused on strong momentum in the maritime industry to address seafarer’s wellbeing, particularly their mental health. Last year, the campaign was on gender equality – with the aim of empowering women to effectively and efficiently participate in operational activities of the maritime industry.
This year’s Day of the Seafarer was celebrated on the theme ‘Seafarers Are Key Workers: Essential to Shipping, Essential to the World’. The Day saw managers of the GMA welcome some seafarers at Tema Port and communicate how important their jobs are to survival of the world economy.
Speaking on how this year’s celebration has been hampered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Alonsi said: “With the unprecedented situation of the current global pandemic, this year the Day of the Seafarer campaign calls for the recognition of seafarers as key workers within the context of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). It also advocates for seafarers in the provision of support, and to ensure that seafarers are given the recognition they deserve for keeping the world moving in these trying times.
In these challenging times seafarers have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic, as the world relies on them to transport about 80 percent of trade by volume – including vital food and medical goods, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods across the globe.
As they continue in this heroic profession, they have become collateral victims of the crises; as travel restrictions have left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. Many have already been on tours of duty significantly longer than the 11 months prescribed by the International Labour Organisation as the maximum length of seafarers’ contract.
“The difficulties surrounding repatriation and crew changes have impacted the shipping industry tremendously, and rightly been identified as a priority issue – with the IMO and other organisations urging governments to intervene.”
He added: “It is in this regard that a joint statement by IMO-ICAO-ILO designated seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, and service provider personnel at the ports as key workers.
“In the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and local authorities have implemented travel restrictions and health screening measures for travellers entering or exiting the country. The Ghana Maritime Authority, being cognisant of these national restrictions in the context of the outbreak, has taken measures to ensure that where appropriate and with the consent and concurrence of other key stakeholders, ship crew are embarked and disembarked safely while observing established protocols.”
Meanwhile, the Ghana Maritime Authority – acting on the advice of the IMO and other United Nations Agencies – has issued the following protocols in the interest of seafarers within the context of COVID -19:
Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel; Industry guidance to ship operators for protecting the health of seafarers; Recommendations on facilitating the movement of offshore energy sector personnel; Guidance relating to the certification of seafarers; Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak onboard ships.
The Authority says it has continuously been monitoring the situation, and worked closely with port facilities to ensure that seafarers onboard ships who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities onshore.
“We are all aware that many seafarers have been away from home for several months and are not certain when they will be able to return, due to travel restrictions. While we sympathise with them, we must also recognise and acknowledge the achievements of these seafarers and appreciate their enormous contributions toward development of the global economy. The Day of the Seafarer campaign this year is focused on paying tribute to seafarers and acknowledging their sacrifices, and the issues they face during this COVID-19 pandemic.
“We call on everyone to equally recognise seafarers for their ability to deliver vital goods which are essential in providing responsive measures aimed at overcoming this pandemic,” Mr. Alonsi intimated.
Quoting the IMO secretary general, Mr. Alonsi added: “We all have to be amazed and impressed with the dedication, professionalism, resilience and perseverance of seafarers, as they have faced difficulties in conducting crew changes; inability to be repatriated, inability to get passports and visas to get to and from their ships; lack of access to medical care; lack of personal protective equipment; and denial of shore leave – all as a result of well-intentioned efforts to protect public health and safety, but with overly restrictive consequences for shipping
“Let us all join hands with the Secretary-General to emphasise that seafarers need and deserve quick and decisive humanitarian action from governments everywhere; and not just during this pandemic, but at all times.”