bY Elizabeth Chukwuma
Between February 27th, 2020, and now, the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, had been looking for ways to improve the welfare of the over 150,000 Seafarers who need changeover.
These thousands of Seafarers were said to have been trapped onboard ships across the globe due to the continued imposition of travel restrictions by the 174- member countries of the United Nations, UN, maritime agency, as a result of the Wuhan Town of the Hebei province of the Asian country emerged coronavirus pandemic.
The opportunity came for Kitack Lim, the IMO , Secretary General, to speak out when he joined the heads of the other specialised agencies of the UN, such as the FAO,IFAD,ILO,ITU,WHO and WMO, to attend the April 1, 2020, virtual meeting with Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the world body.
Lim, the IMO Secretary General, was said to have taken advantage of the meeting to ask the UN system agencies to support the IMO, in its request to governments to declare seafarers, port personnel and other maritime workers as key personnel.
The UN meeting was said to have addressed the impact of the COVID 19, among other things, disruptions and restrictions to travel, trade flows, global logistics, supply of food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.
The IMO, Secretary General, was said to have highlighted the importance of the welfare and well-being of maritime personnel, particularly, seafarers and dockworkers and the significance of Crew changes to support global supply chain at the meeting.
He was said to have also highlighted the major restrictions to Crew changes due to the travel bans and restrictions that are being increasingly imposed by governments due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to him, there was no basis for the travel bans on seafarers, particular, because shipping is a vital artery for the economy to enable the global supply chain and trade flows, including in particular, urgently needed pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and food supply.
He noted that seaborne trade may be flowing but challenges are still growing daily due to the COVID 19 lock down restrictions on travels being introduced by governments of member countries.
The presentation of Lim at the meeting may have convinced Guterres, the UN, Secretary General, that he was said to have appealed for a Coordinated global, regional and local approach and response to address the unprecedented health crisis and thus, pleaded with all the specialised agencies working together.
This may have informed why all the UN specialised systems agencies threw their weight on the IMO demaand for governments of member countries to treat seafarres and dock workers as essential workers and exempt them from travel bans.
Perhaps, to assist member countries governments put in place Coordinated procedures of sea movement of Seafarers, port personnel and other maritime workers, the UN, maritime agency was said to have issued a 12-step plan to the member countries , including Nigeria, providing them with a road map to free, Seafarers and port personnel including Dockworkers from their COVID 19lockdown and allow appropriate exemptions for them ‘’join and leave ships’’.
The IMO was said to have warned that that failure by governments of member countries to do so ‘’risk the welfares of seafarers, Maritime Safety and the supply chains that the world relies on.
It was not surprising why the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, had domesticated the IMO Protocol designating seafarers and dockworkers as essential workers that should be exempted from COVID 19, travel restrictions.
The exemptions were said to be contained in a new guideline that was said to have been developed and published by the Maritime Regulatory Agency to support essential services in the Nigeria’s shipping sector. The guideline states that the jobs of dockworkers, at the nation’s seaports, terminals, and jetties are essential to the national economy and, therefore, should be granted passage between their places of abode and the seaports/terminals and jetties to perform their duties.
This may have informed why the agency had directed companies employing the services of the seafarers dock workers, particular, to provide special and dedicated means of transportation to convey them, adding that such transport system must be regularly, disinfected within the recommended minimum hours by the Nigerian Center for Disease and Control., NCDC.
The dock labour employers, the agency, further directed that it must comply with the government rules to ensure that the buses deployed for such services within the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown carry a 50 per cent maximum capacity. Such buses, the agency said must have hand sanitisers for all drivers’ and passengers’ use.
The agency was said to have made clear that that the use of Face masks within all terminals, mandatory Temperature checks on all staff before access to terminals was compulsory. The bad news was that the persons who present Temperature above 38°C, may not be allowed access to the port premises as they may be quarantined on the grounds of having been infected of the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidelines was said to have also made it mandatory for all dock labour employers to develop risk assessments and safety intervention guidelines for all personnel and operations in the areas of vulnerability within their areas of operations at the port suspected that could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including cargo handling, access control, and rostering procedures.
NIMASA was said to have demanded from the dock labour employers to devise methods of ensuring that the dockworkers absent from their duties for issues relating to COVlD-19 are quarantined and compensated for the suspension of earnings they suffer as a consequence.
Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said the latest advice for the dockworkers and their employers, was meant to contain the coronavirus pandemic while also supporting the continuation of the economy.
Jamo, the NIMASA, helmsman, who could not hide his feelings had said that the IMO advice to member countries to adopt the new Protocols and guidelines, in handling the issue of Seafarers, port personnel and other maritime workers, particular, the dockworkers was ‘’meant to stop the spread of the deadlydisease in member countries while supporting the continuation of their economies’’. Jamoh, had alluded to President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims that ‘’’no economy can survive total lockdown, noting that maritime is an International business, with the major actors being Seafarers and dockworkers
The NIMASA boss, was said to have warned against loitering around the port premises, urging the dock labour employers to ensure that the social distancing of two meters as recommended by the World Health Organisation, a health agency of the UN, and the NCDC, is maintained between people in their workplace and other public spaces within and around the port terminals.