Flag states must protect seafarers and passenger’s health during coronavirus crisis
The impact of rapid and worldwide spread of Covid-19 throughout the maritime industry, in particular the cruise ship industry, has made global headlines since the outbreak of the global pandemic.
The Diamond Princess was quarantined at the Port of Yokohama in Japan in February, dominating international coverage. Last week the Grand Princess was generating headlines after it was refused permission to dock in California amid speculation that some passengers and crew had tested positive for Covid-19.
This week the coronavirus stricken Braemar made global news after being turned away from several Caribbean ports and spent days searching for somewhere to dock until Cuba agreed to allow the offloading of passengers and crew. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines confirmed that the Braemar is achored approximately five miles off the coast of Havana, awaiting a charter flight from the UK where they will offload the British guests and crew only – no other nationalities. The rest of the passengers and crew are reportedly still in limbo.
Now the Guardian are reporting that more than 100 Australian doctors and medical professionals are stuck on cruise ship off Chile aboard the Roald Amundsen after Chile banned cruise ship from docking in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dave Heindel, chair of the ITF seafarers’ section today called attention to the failure of flag states to protect seafarers’ and passenger’s health during this humanitarian crisis.
“Attention needs to be called on the failure of the governments of Bermuda and the Bahamas in the cases of the Grand Princess and the Braemar for not accepting their responsibility to remedy the problem for its sovereign vessels,” said Heindel.
“In each of these cases, the US, and following a diplomatic scramble, the Cuban government, have been working directly with the cruise liners to address the situation. But there has been little or no mention of the responsibility and duty of care of flag state governments to assist seafarers employed on these vessels,” Heindel added.
Under international law, the onus for the health and safety of the crew and passengers, and for the wider public that could be impacted, is on the flag state governments. Flag states should ensure that companies whose vessels fly their flag abide by national and international legislations since flag states have sovereignty over their vessels.
“Flag states have sovereignty over their vessels, but for the coronavirus-affected cruise ships responsibility has fallen on the port states, national governments of the passengers and crew or even a third country. For instance, the Braemar was refused to dock in its own territory, with the vessel sent Cuba after the government authorised the offloading or passengers and crew,” said Heindel.
“This is simply insane and unsustainable. If the world continues to accept the Flag of Convenience system in its current form, it should be pointed out for its failures. The world should be concerned about the lack of policies and inability of flag states to react and enact measures in line with their responsibility to protect workers and tackle the transmission of the Covid-19 virus,” he said.
The ITF, and our maritime affiliates representing seafarers and dockers around the world, urged flag states to take responsibility and account for the health and wellbeing of all workers and passengers onboard their vessels, especially the seafarers that live and work onboard for many months at a time.
“Protecting the health of transport workers is our first priority. The ITF will continue to advocate for the health and safety of crews on ships, port workers, along with passengers, and that they are protected from any potential risks of COVID-19 as well as ensuring that flags states are adhering to their duty of care to their health and safety,” said Heindel.