Open letter: The impact of the situation in Ukraine on seafarers

SeafarersCrew-changeSafetyMental health

We strongly deplore the situation in Ukraine and the ensuing crisis. Overnight, Ukrainians saw their lives turned upside down and millions of civilians are now caught in a warzone, separated from families and stuck in danger and instability. This crisis also affects Ukrainian and Russian seafarers, whether they are at sea or at home. Seafarers were often forgotten during the COVID-19 pandemic, or even negatively impacted by the measures adopted to protect our societies against the virus. We must ensure this does not happen again.

In addition to devastating the lives of millions of civilians, the conflict in Ukraine has a deep impact on the maritime industry, on global trade, and none the least on the seafarers. More than 100 ships are currently stuck in Black Sea, with close to 2000 seafarers on board.

The situation has especially serious implications on Ukrainian and Russian seafarers, who make up 10.5% and 4% of seafarers respectively (BIMCO, 2021). Some of our seafarers and their families are directly caught up in the warzone, trying to flee it or find their way back, facing serious danger and hardship. Other seafarers are onboard vessels, deeply concerned about their families in danger and sometimes unable to contact them and unsure of when they will be able to join them. This strong emotional distress and uncertainty should not be made worse by the worry of extended crew changeovers or problems onboard vessels.

As ship managers, we are doing our best to support them and their families through these times. We are offering psychological help, trying to connect seafarers currently at sea with their families, helping with cash advances, and putting in place support programmes to help families and those in Ukraine flee warzones and find a new home.

Our companies are among the largest ship managers in the world. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collaborated to create the Neptune Crew Change Indicator, which provides data on the impact of COVID-19 on crew changes. Throughout that crisis, we also saw numerous examples of government action making the situation worse for seafarers.
While we are doing our best to support the wellbeing of all our seafarers, as an industry, we must ramp up our efforts and give our utmost support to seafarers and their families and ensure this does not turn into a renewed escalation of the crew change crisis.

We therefore agree with IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim who recently said that “Shipping, particularly seafarers, cannot be collateral victims in a larger political and military crisis – they must be safe and secure.” We must ensure that seafarers do not find themselves yet again in a similar situation as during the COVID-19 crisis when they were overlooked by governments. It is thus our duty to ensure that government actions do not have unintended consequences on seafarers.

Together we call on governments to continue to treat seafarers as key workers and keep in place key worker benefits, such as easier access to visas and vaccines. While sanctions have increased some restrictions on crew movement, we ask that there be no additional restrictions on seafarers.

We urge lawmakers, governments, and the general maritime community to focus on helping Ukrainian seafarers and their families out of war zones. We are deeply concerned by the situation and stand with all those affected. We are trying to do our best to alleviate its impacts, but we need help from governments to guarantee a stronger easing of the global impacts of this conflict.