Exhausted ship crews offered respite in Prince Rupert

Closed borders, travel restrictions preventing deep-water seafarers from returning to home ports

Container ship loading at DP World’s Fairview terminal in Prince Rupert

Approximately 200,000 of them are working under expired contracts unable to leave their ships and return home from voyages extended in some cases well beyond a year by COVID-19 travel restrictions.


Many, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), have already been pushed beyond their mental and physical limits to the point where they now pose a safety risk to themselves and the ships they crew upon.
The ITF is calling the crew change crisis involving seafarers that work on container ships and other large ocean-going cargo vessels a “humanitarian disaster.”
It also threatens to add another serious challenge to major international trade routes that are already facing disruption from economies hammered hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority (PRPA) has therefore launched a program to offer some relief to a small portion of those sailors while their ships are anchored in the northern B.C. port.
The PRPA is offering seafarers access to a secured space outside Prince Rupert’s Northland Cruise Ship Terminal, where port staff have set up tents, a grill, food and provided Wi-Fi and other amenities for foreign seafarer use.
B.C.’s 2020 cruise ship season was officially sunk in early June after the federal government banned all cruise ships that carry more than 100 people from operating in Canadian waters until October 31 as part of its efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Shaun Stevenson, the PRPA’s president and CEO, noted that seafarers play a key role in keeping shipping lines open and trade moving on the transpacific and other major trade loops.
“While the pandemic has impacted all our lives, seafarers are facing daily demands that go far beyond the normal call of duty,” Stevenson said in a press release. “It is important to consider the plight of these essential workers, who are critical to our economy and global supply chain and do what we can to support them.”
Travel restrictions, closed borders, cancelled flights and other fallout from the global pandemic have prevented ship crews from returning home. The result is that they continue to work under expired contracts.
The ITF, whose member unions represent 1.4 million seafarers around the world, has already agreed to two extensions to expired contracts.
But, as of June 15, it has vowed that there will be no more extensions.
That could result in crew refusing to work, and that could prevent ships from sailing on busy trade routes that have already been hit with hundreds of cancelled sailings due to economic lockdowns and the pandemic-induced global recession.
The ITF’s Enough is Enough campaign is aimed at applying pressure to governments and travel authorities around the world to ease visa requirements and other travel restrictions to allow seafarers to return home.  
In a June 22 statement, the ITF said it and the Joint Negotiating Group have “pursued every diplomatic avenue available, but still crew changes remain a major issue. Daily we receive desperate messages from anxious and fatigued crew who are convinced governments, including their own, have forgotten them.”
It noted that failing to relieve exhausted, stressed and desperate crew poses a serious danger to the safety of ship operations around the world.
Countries home to the largest portion of deep-water sailors include Poland, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Romania and Russia.