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Almost two years after the COVID-19 pandemic started, the International Maritime (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has approved a draft IMO Assembly resolution consolidating issues related to crew change, access to medical care, ʺkey workerʺ designation and seafarers’ prioritization for COVID-19 vaccination.

Photo: IMO

The draft resolution was approved during the 104th MSC session, held between 4 and 8 October 2021.

It is expected to be adopted at the 32nd session of the IMO Assembly, to be held between 6 and 15 December 2021.  

Specifically, the draft Assembly resolution on comprehensive action to address seafarers’ challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic urges Member States to:

  • designate seafarers as ʺkey workersʺ in order to facilitate shore leave and safe and unhindered movement across borders, and recognize their relevant documentation for this purpose; 
  • consider the implementation of the industry recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; 
  • prioritize vaccination of seafarers, as far as practicable, in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes;  
  • consider exempting seafarers from any national policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry, taking into account that seafarers should be designated as ʺkey workersʺ and that they travel across borders frequently; 
  • provide seafarers with immediate access to medical care and facilitate medical evacuation of seafarers in need of urgent medical attention when the required medical care cannot be provided either on board or in the port of call.  

What is more, the MSC approved Guidance on seafarers’ training and certification for issuing administrations, flag states and port states during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidance contains recommended practices for exceptional measures adopted as a consequence of the pandemic. It outlines the principle that force majeure is temporary and that STCW Parties should seek to revert to performing their obligations under the STCW Convention and Code as soon as possible.

In December last year, the United Nations adopted a resolution that calls on its members to designate seafarers and other marine personnel as key workers and implement relevant measures to allow stranded seafarers to be repatriated and others to join ships.

The document encouraged governments and relevant stakeholders to implement IMO-recognized protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the UN’s move, in mid-December, forty-five IMO Member States and one Associate Member, Hong Kong, designated seafarers as key workers, a key step in resolving the ongoing crew change crisis.