Over 600 Ghanaian seafarers are stranded abroad due to the Coronavirus pandemic which has led to partial boarder closures globally, data from maritime services provider, Schulte Maritime Services Ghana (SMSG) – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Schulte Group – has shown.
According to the data, these Ghanaians who embarked on seafaring activities to make ends meet and enhance their economic status are spread across the globe, making it difficult to repatriate them even though government, through the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) and SMSG, has put in measures for their return.
“With the help of the Ghana Maritime Authority, the president has given us approval to do crew changes each time our vessels come within our waters. Therefore, we have the approval for flights to land, put Ghanaians on board and repatriate the foreigners to their countries,” the Director at Schulte Maritime Service Ghana, Captain Joshua Nii Addo Addo, told the B&FT in an interview.
Despite the opportunity, Captain Addo Addo explained that the cost of repatriation is one of the hurdles impeding some Ghanaians who want to come home but are unable to. Estimates from the industry show that it costs as much as €100,000 to charter a flight for repatriation and other purposes, and the location of the Ghanaian seafarers also does not make it suitable to charter a flight for all of them.
“Companies cannot afford to be chartering flights for everybody because the seafarers are all over the globe. They are not concentrated at one place so that you can go picking them up. It is quite difficult in these times for them,” Mr. Addo Addo said.
State of the Seafarers
The B&FT gathered that many of the seafarers are stressed, but there is little chance for them to come back home. Most of them have also seen their contracts expire for 6 to 15 months, a situation that is likely to cause mental and physical fatigue and a breach of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) prescribed 11-month contracts for seafarers.
Meanwhile, the GMA has been proactive in extending the certification of all Ghanaian seafarers overseas. The GMA has also established other forms of communication with the seafarers to aid them surmount any challenge while they are overseas.
Mr. Addo Addo told this paper that: “GMA is the certifying authority, and they have put in efforts to extend the expiring date of all Ghanaian seafarers. So, they have put out a letter saying that all seafarers, wherever you are, an extension through the letter has been given to cover you until the situation comes under control”.
For him, the move is very commendable – but the best way to get the stranded seafarers back is to open the air borders. “The European communities are well advanced, and they have opened their borders for free movement of seafarers because they are key essential workers. One major support would be the opening of our borders. Our challenge is our numbers.
“The seafarers cannot be at one place so we organise special flights for all of them to come as is being done by government. It is not helpful for the seafarer; the best bet for us is for our borders to open. Put in the necessary protocols and we should be fine.”