“As the Covid-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions put in place to attempt containment drag on, around 200,000 merchant seafarers are trapped aboard ships in violation of international law. Each month, the 100,000 seafarers due to be relieved of their duties on board the ships transporting 90 per cent of the world’s goods, are being abandoned by the international community. Many have now been on board without access to shore leave for months beyond their original contracts. This not only contravenes international maritime regulations in place to protect the life, health and welfare of seafarers and avert environmental disaster, but amounts to an egregious mass breach of human rights raising concerns over the forced labour of this invisible workforce.

Industry bodies, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Joint Negotiating Group, as well as the UN Secretary General, the ILO and IMO are in agreement with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and supported by Pope Francis, that at the end of their contracts, seafarers are fatigued physically and/or mentally and not fit to safely perform their duties. Repatriation and replacement is the only responsible course of action.

In May in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs noted that “forcing vulnerable workers with little choice but to endure conditions that put them at risk, including by dismantling previously established labour rights, can constitute a form of forced labour according to the ILO”.”