Maritime unions around the world continue to push for seafarers to be recognised as workers providing essential services in the global maritime industry. Although much has been done for the other sectors with essential workers, the seafaring sector still requires more support. Because seafarers travel on long voyages around the world and are not based in a single location, thousands are still looking for opportunities for crew change and a port that allows repatriation home to their loved ones.
Closure of ports and signing off
Joreen Boon, a deck cadet, began her contract on board the ship in the middle of October last year. She was only midway through her stint when the coronavirus outbreak started. Soon, she began to witness the rapid closure of ports while in the Gulf of Finland and was faced with an unfavourable reality, “I knew I was going to have to exceed my contract period as ports have stopped crew change,” Joreen told SeaVoices.
It was the same predicament for her fellow shipmates, Joreen recalled, “Everyone on board was worried as most had finished their contracts but couldn’t sign off as their relievers were locked down in their countries.” Her shipmates had no choice but to remain stationed at their posts.
Joreen subsequently approached her ship Captain on signing off from the ship. She was unsure of her chances, having just left the Russian port that did not permit crew change.
One home, but many still out at sea
The window of opportunity came when she discovered that the next destination port in Tallin, Estonia allowed for crew change, though there was one challenge that loomed – Estonia had put in place a measure that prohibited foreigners from staying in the country. Without the option of signing off and holding up at a hotel, Joreen’s company proceeded to make precise arrangements for the vessel to be alongside the port on the same day as her flight.
In a fortunate position, Joreen only had to have her contract extended for some 10 days. Many seafarers continue to fulfil maintenance duties on board ships until a reliever can sign on to take over their duties. Grateful, Joreen added, “even though I exceeded a few days over my contract, I am glad the Captain was continuously helping me to sign off at the next available port”.
Joreen is now back in Singapore, serving her mandatory Stay-Home Notice (SHN) for Singaporeans arriving back home from overseas. The Young SMOU team has since reached out to her with an SMOU Care Pack filled with essential protective items and to offer complimentary meals from Lighthouse Bistro.
Cogs in the global supply chain machine
When asked if she had anything to share with seafarers out there, Joreen encouraged them to “stay strong and hang in there” because “we’re making a difference by keeping supply chain around the world moving.”
Seafarers are the cogs in the global supply chain machine, keeping global trade moving. The COVID-19 situation has showed us the essential contribution that seafarers continue to provide for the world, transporting necessary goods even in times of a pandemic. Without whom, many will not have food, energy and critical supplies like medicine and lifesaving equipment to manage the spread of the coronavirus.