World Maritime Day was celebrated on 25th September 2021. What is important to highlight though, is the actual theme of this year as suggested by the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim which brings in the front line the heart of shipping above all others are the seafarers.
For the record, World Maritime Day is an annual celebration founded by the United Nations (UN) in collaboration with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) celebrating the contribution that the maritime industry makes towards the world’s overall economy.
The World Maritime theme for 2021 aims to raise awareness of seafarersʹ important role in world trade and increase the visibility of their work and challenges, while it is linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - particularly SDG 4 on education and training; SDG 8 related to decent work; SDG 9 on innovation and industry, which links to the promotion of a resilient maritime sector; and SDG 5 on gender equality, linked to efforts to promote seafaring as a career for all, including women, in particular.
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic brought along many challenges to seafarers and this year, everyone agrees that recognition to them for their dedication, beyond the hardships they faced is more deserved than ever before. Seafarers found themselves stranded for months at sea, while international travel restrictions did not allow them to come to shore to see their families, others did not have access to vaccines and some suffered illness due to this unprecedented situation. This year World Maritime Day aims to bring forward these matters which are still challenging many seafarers across the world as these unprecedented circumstances brought huge demands and tasks, through a series of events and actions during 2021.
The IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has suggested that seafarers must be placed among the category of key-workers by every government around the world and have access to immediate vaccinations. So far, more than 60 governments around the world have placed seafarers in the special category of key-workers while issues such as their health and safety are on top of the list of issues discussed. Seafarers are still fighting for access to medical care when needed – not just for COVID-19 but also routine health issues or following an accident on board, as sometimes it can be a matter of life or death. These are the real challenges which place at risk the mental health of seafarers, and the livelihoods of whole families. This has to be taken seriously as a humanitarian crisis since it threatens the safety of life at sea, thus the global supply chain.
“Through these difficult times, the international community has seen how the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and food, has been central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic. This could not happen without the professionalism and dedication of the world’s seafarers,” Mr. Lim said.
The legal basis is in place. The International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention, the MLC, has laid out the requirements for leave, repatriation and medical care as it is considered to be the fourth pillar in the foundations of maritime law which complements the three key IMO treaties on safety of life at sea, SOLAS; training of seafarers, STCW; and pollution prevention, MARPOL. The treaties are interconnected since they are geared towards the seafarers' welfare which is the essential component which helps to ensure that accidents and pollution as far as possible are avoided.
The pandemic gave the opportunity to the IMO, ILO, ITF and industry partners to collaborate and work together so as to develop guidance protocols, which led to the creation of the now well-established industry protocols to allow safe crew changes.
The IMO's Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) has been dealing with hundreds of cases involving seafarers, group of seafarers or even individual ships, often trying to bring a solution to the problems created. One of SCAT’s goals is to be able to resolve cases through diplomatic negotiation so as to gain a fair result for the seafarers.
Seafarers managed to gain worldwide attention through their plight, including a UN General Assembly resolution which was adopted last December. But, more has to be accomplished for the people who are in charge for the safe transportation of our food and goods to our home. That is why IMO is aiming to keep the welfare of seafarers in the public eye starting this year with a series of initiatives, actions and activities.
Starting today, 30th September 2021, the Organization intends to light up the IMO building, more specifically the Seafarer Memorial, in the blue colours of the IMO/maritime and will continue to do so, on World Maritime Day each year. The initiative’s symbolism aims to unite the maritime community aiming to raise awareness of the vital contribution of shipping to the world.
The invitation is extended to IMO Member States, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations in consultative status to join in this annual initiative by lighting up their most iconic buildings, bridges, maritime ports, ships, monuments, museums and other emblematic landmarks on World Maritime Day each year, because the core of shipping is its seafarers.
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