IMO, UNCTAD Call for Regulations’ Removal, Maritime Workers’ Essential Designation in Wake of COVID-19

A joint statement by the Secretaries-General of the International Maritime Organization and UN Conference on Trade and Development highlights the importance of maritime transport, which carries more than 80% of global trade by volume and is dependent on over 2 million seafarers.

The statement outlines the impact of COVID-19 on those who operate the world’s merchant ships, and calls for and the removal of any unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery.

The Secretaries-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) have issued a joint statement in support of keeping ships moving, ports open, and cross-border trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the statement, dated 8 June 2020, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi outline the impact of COVID-19 on those who operate the world’s merchant ships. The statement highlights the importance of maritime transport, which carries more than 80% of global trade by volume and is dependent on over 2 million seafarers. However, the statement estimates that starting in mid-June 2020, approximately 300,000 seafarers per month will need to take international repatriation flights (whether by air or sea) in order to enable changeover of the ships’ crews. Such changeover is necessary, the statement emphasizes, to reduce fatigue, ensure safe operations and crew well-being, and to comply with international safety and employment regulations.

Accordingly, IMO and UNCTAD encourage governments and relevant authorities to designate seafarers, including marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, and service providers at ports “key workers” that provide essential services and therefore are exempted from travel restrictions.

Similarly, the statement calls for efforts to “identify and remove any unnecessary regulatory obstacles to post-pandemic recovery.” Approaches include exemptions, waivers, electronic solutions and sharing of pre-arrival information. Highlighting the potential benefits of these measures in a post-pandemic world, the statement notes that the actions can encourage further investment in digitalization, energy efficiency efforts, and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions from shipping.

The Secretaries-General close by underscoring the need to keep ships moving, ports open, and cross-border trade flowing, and to avoid logistics obstacles that could potentially lead to supply shortages. [IMO-UNCTAD Joint Statement] [UNCTAD Press Release]