Vol 71, No 4 (2020)
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Published online: 2020-12-30

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COVID-19 and seafarers’ rights to shore leave, repatriation and medical assistance: a pilot study

Anish Arvind Hebbar1, Nitin Mukesh1
Pubmed: 33394486
IMH 2020;71(4):217-228.


Background: The well-being of the world’s 1.65 million seafarers is expected to be secured by the rights established under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006 with active monitoring of its implementation by the flag administrations through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO). However, the substantial gains achieved since entry into force of MLC in August 2013 appear to have been severely dented by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The aim of the study was to examine, on a pilot basis, the disruptions and challenges to the observance of seafarers’ rights to shore leave, repatriation and medical assistance as an immediate consequence of COVID-19. Materials and methods: The impact of COVID-19 on seafarers’ rights was examined in three dimensions — shore leave, repatriation and medical assistance. Questionnaires were administered online from June to August 2020 to 450 seafarers, top 10 ship-management companies, 35 shipping companies and maritime administrations of top 5 seafarer supplying countries. The paper discusses the results of the survey. Results: The research revealed a previously unknown majority preference for shore leave, that diminished sharply during COVID-19. Impact on work-performance and well-being of seafarers was revealed with only a fifth of the seafarers having willingly agreed to an extension of contract. This study revealed incidence rates at 6 months into the pandemic of several parameters — delayed repatriations (21.44%) that includes crew with contract extensions (12.48%), crew with completed contract awaiting repatriation (8.96%) and crew that had exceeded 12-month continuous service (0.82%). Compensation, if provided, is meagre and was affecting ratings the most. Deprivation of medical assistance was also revealed. Conclusions: The well being of seafarers would likely remain vulnerable to breaches, unless measures are put in place to safeguard the rights assured under MLC in the face of uncertainties caused by a pandemic such as COVID-19.

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