Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of who is and isn’t designated a “key worker” has been a difficult debate, with many arguing that essential services go far, far beyond those provided by doctors and nurses. Although the UK government now officially recognizes seafarers as key workers, it’s arguable that the general public has little idea of the contributions made by these workers to the ongoing maintenance of the supply chain.
“Ninety percent of everything” was how Rose George titled her 2013 book on the shipping industry. That is how important the world’s merchant fleet is to global trade. Yet when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, politicians the world over were seemingly unaware of the significance of cargo-ship crews’ work. Unlike cross-border lorry drivers, airline pilots, and cabin crew, seafarers were not designated as key workers – with tragic consequences for the sailors and their families in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.
Stranded at sea
The travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have made crew changes and repatriation of seafarers massively difficult. The result has been a humanitarian crisis of unheard-of proportions – and one made worse by a widespread lack of interest in the seafarers’ plight. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimates that around 400,000 seafarers were stranded on their ships in December 2020 – unable to make their way home and many months past the end of their original contracts. A similar number of seafarers were stuck at home, prevented from joining their ships and earning much-needed money to support their families in countries without welfare networks.
A software developer voluntarily supporting seafarers
Applying to become an AIS Partner was super easy. I just filled out the form, and shortly afterwards an AIS support member reached out to me. I sent FleetMon my shipping address, picked up the station from the post office, and connected all the components. My office has a high elevation and line-of-sight to the harbour, so I just mounted the antenna, plugged the antenna into the AIS receiver, and then plugged the receiver into my router.
The initiative belongs to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Goodwill Maritime Ambassador for Bulgaria Capt. Andriyan Evtimov.
The purpose is to have the document signed online by at least 150,000 people – the same number of seafarers blocked by theCOVID-19 and then send it to the IMO member-state governments with an appeal for immediate and urgent measures to facilitate the movement of seafaring personnel.