On a planet that shows new wounds every day, economic geography seems structured according to the logistics and infrastructures that shape the world. But in this scenario, it often happens that workers' rights are eroded, set aside and forgotten.
If the terrible pandemic that haunts us continues to weigh heavily on our lives, it would take an infinite multiplier to get an idea of the hardships and penalties that undermine the lives of seafarers. The crews from all over the world have lived and are still experiencing the most dramatic crisis in history. Seafarers are the backbone of globalised trade, a humanity that has continued to travel even when the world has stopped. A million and seven hundred thousand men and women often confined to their current state of being invisible.
During the two years of the pandemic, crews have always and constantly guaranteed the full operation of the world logistics chain and territorial continuity to and from the islands. But while they ensured the maintenance and continuation of world trade, the seafarers themselves were poorly repaid, subject to merciless and often illegal restrictions. A paradoxical and surreal story.
Many sailors and officers have been barred from leaving their ship for over a year, in some cases nearly two. At the most dramatic moment of the crew change crisis, more than 400,000 seafarers were forced not to evade embarking, continuing their duties and activities often indefinitely. Restrictions on freedom of movement have often had disastrous consequences on the health of seafarers. The problems of isolation, loneliness, separation and anxiety for family and loved ones thousands of miles away, together with the uncertainty of the future and the lack of support have increased the physical and psychological stress on board ships, sometimes with tragic consequences.
The current risk is that the situation could deteriorate again, with the increasing spread of the variants of Covid-19. The seafarers are raising the white flag, they are legitimately exhausted, in these conditions many refuse to board and many are seeking alternative employment. As often happens in the shipping sector, the damage caused by politics is tangible: the maritime industry is highly globalised but the rights and protection of workers are fragmented among different actors who often do not respond to any regulation or higher authority.
In the end, but with incomprehensible and guilty delay, last July 1st the Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility (MIMS) expressed itself on the Covid-19 vaccination of seafarers, defining it as a priority. “The vaccination of maritime personnel on board and awaiting boarding is considered a priority for the sector, to make ships safe and avoid the formation of infectious outbreaks that would be difficult to manage”. Finally! A long-awaited decision for the safety of personnel from various countries around the world, in which there is less availability of doses. Now, in addition to preparing the vaccination of personnel with Italian citizenship, it is also possible to immunise European and non-European subjects who have not yet received the vaccine in their country. The solution adopted last April by the Special Tripartite Committee of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, which recommended that member states adopt a shared approach to rapidly vaccinate all maritime personnel, becomes operational in Italy as well. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has also prepared a protocol for the establishment of vaccination hubs in ports.
Unfortunately, there are still too few IMO member states applying measures that comply with these resolutions. It should be clear to everyone that vaccines are the only way out of the pandemic crisis. Collaboration between state authorities and the private sector is a prerequisite for the programme to be extended to crews from all over the world, regardless of nationality. The pandemic can only be overcome on a global scale. The sector which by its nature is the engine of globalisation is the one that has suffered most.
Seafarers have faced the most dramatic crisis and we must be grateful to them. Their sacrifice, once again, allows the planet to hope for the future. Provided that the attempt to reorganise the primacy of man over the geopolitics of profit is truly credible.