Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The recent blockade of the Suez Canal, due to the grounding of a giant container ship, has put the importance of sea transport before public opinion. More than 90% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport Even less known are the conditions of sailors operating on cargo ships, whose crews are severely tested by the Covid-19 containment measures.
As many governments prevent boats from docking at their ports in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, "more than 400,000 seafarers have been left trapped on ships long after their original contract has expired", reports a note sent to Agenzia Fides by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC).
"Many are experiencing severe trauma as well as mental and physical health issues", the note said. "The crew change crisis has also created risks of labor exploitation, since seafarers are being compelled to continue working at sea without a valid contract and beyond the 11-month at-sea limit mandated by international law. At the same time, newly contracted seafarers awaiting to board a vessel are stranded in hotels and dormitories without the means to provide for themselves or their families".
The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) is a member of the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) along with 29 other national and international Catholic agencies working to eliminate the scourge of human trafficking.
Each year during Lent, the CCOAHT launches a campaign to raise awareness of forced labor in the fishing industry.
This "humanitarian crisis at sea" is a global concern and an important focus of CCOAHT’s March 2021 campaign. The campaign provides resources and information to help Catholics and other interested and committed people to support its two-fold call: for governments and shipping companies to pay greater attention and put an end to the crew change crisis, and for seafarers to be designated as essential workers with priority access to vaccines.
The campaign also encourages supporters to engage in a key advocacy action: to join the more than 750 organizational signatories of the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change. The Declaration calls for the recognition of seafarers as essential workers and an end to the crew change crisis. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 31/3/2021)