According to the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, it was important to keep the supply chain space open by allowing maritime trade and cross-border transport to thrive, even as efforts were being made to find a cure for the disease.In a statement issued in Geneva last Tuesday, Dr Kituyi emphasised that the global maritime transport industry was critical in the midst of the pandemic, since it carried food, raw materials, general goods and essential medical supplies to countries.
The statement followed the call by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) for UNCTAD’s intervention in travel restrictions, which the ICS said were affecting the operations of ships, as most seafarers could not move from their national jurisdictions to join their ships on voyages.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, seafarers have come under increased checks and scrutiny in various ports worldwide, including Ghana.
Many port states have imposed local regulations, travel and quarantine restrictions and precluding free access to seafarers.
Some operators have suspended crew changes aboard ships to lessen their social interactions.
The ICS, in its letter to UNCTAD, copied to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other related UN bodies, argued that the monthly crew change-over, in line with the relevant international maritime regulations governing safe working hours and crew welfare, was increasingly becoming a challenge owing to travel restrictions in many countries across the globe.
According to the chamber, around 100,000 seafarers needed to be changed over from ships in which they operated every month and, therefore, called on the UN body to institute protocols for professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, adding that they be treated just like any other international ‘key workers’, such as airline crew or medical personnel.
“We wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions when joining or leaving their ships in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chain functioning.
“This includes vital medical supplies, which are sorely needed at this time, and other items that are necessary for the preservation of many jobs, without which modern society cannot function,” the ICS said in its letter.
The UNCTAD Chief, in his statement, pointed out that the global crisis made it imperative now, more than ever, to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade and cross-border transport to continue.
He said the restrictions on trade and cross-border transport might interrupt needed aid and technical support, adding: “They can disrupt businesses and have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.”
Dr Kituyi added that “landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through the seaports of neighbouring countries”.
Shipping and ports, he said, held the world economy together, as they connected countries, markets, businesses and people “on a scale not otherwise possible”.
He, therefore, urged governments to continue to facilitate the movement of not only relief items but also goods in general to minimise the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.