As a business with a 160-year heritage here in the North East, we've seen our fair share of challenges.
There is little however, that can compete with COVID-19 in terms of the dramatic impact it has had on our economy and society. From deaths of loved ones and mental health struggles, to business closures and financial troubles – we have all undoubtedly suffered this past year. However, with improvements in the scale and rate of testing and our vulnerable and front-line staff now receiving doses of the coronavirus vaccine, there finally seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. And yet, a vital workforce is still being neglected. According to latest data from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) there are 1.6 million seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships worldwide. More than 90% of global trade – from household goods and food, to fuel and medical supplies – is moved by sea, and yet seafarers are not classed as key workers by our government.
As one of the world’s leading maritime insurers we are in daily communication with our maritime community and are acutely aware of the immense strain the pandemic has caused on our sailors mental and physical wellbeing. Seafarers usually work 10-12-hour shifts, seven days a week to man ships, on four or six-monthlong contracts, which is then followed by a period of leave. But due to the coronavirus crisis and travel bans brought in by many governments to combat new variants of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of crew have been spending extended periods at sea, far beyond the expiry of their contracts. For those who have been at sea for months longer than their contract requires, there is a growing risk to their mental and physical health.
Not only are crew unable to leave their vessel or receive medical attention ashore, but they have also been separated from their families and loved ones for several months, despite many having had no contact with the virus and posing no health risks. For a staggering number, there is still no certainty as to when they can return home. Whilst those stuck on ships face tough physical and mental struggles, thousands of maritime workers at home have been hit hard by the pandemic too. With crew change protocols not being implemented, a large number of seafarers have not been able to join their ships and work. Others have been unable to claim financial support from the government as their employers are not UK businesses. With incomes slashed and no certainty of when contracts will be renewed, the International Transport Workers Federation estimates there could be as many as 300,000 seafarers facing financial ruin. Undoubtedly all of this is causing unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and mental health issues for both our seafarers and their families- and something needs to be done. It is more important now than ever that we rally behind our maritime workers and recognise the vital work that they contribute every day to our economy.
So, we are calling on our North East business community to support us in our endeavour to class seafarers as key workers and ensure they receive their COVID-19 vaccinations as a matter of urgency. By doing so, we can help to protect their psychological and physical wellbeing and reunite them with their families and loved ones. Vaccinations will allow our seafarers to continue to work safely and ensure that essential goods continue to be in plentiful supply in our country. Inoculated workers will be allowed to come ashore in many countries around the world, alleviating psychological and physical issues, and should help avoid any restrictions being re-imposed on sea crews in the future. With safe working practices enabled and crews offered the vaccine, fixed term contracts will return to normal, allowing those furloughed at home to also re-join their ships and return to work. Our seafarers have been hidden in the wings too long, and it is time that we acknowledge their unwavering hard work in keeping our country going throughout this time of crisis.
Like our frontline staff, they are real heroes and there is no better way of showing our appreciation than by helping them stay mentally, physically and financially safe and well.