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COVID-19 strands thousands of seafarers

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant drops in cargo volume at places such as the Port of New York and New Jersey, leading to many longshoremen being out of work. But not only has this global health crisis affected these workers, but also the 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea.

While out-of-work employees ashore struggle with how they can provide for their families, their counterparts stranded aboard ships battle other nemeses: fatigue and mental illness. What can do that? Months without a break because shipping companies cannot bring in replacement crews and being at sea for more than a year. Such developments bring safety issues to the forefront. The risk of serious injury surfaces for any overworked and tired employee.

Longer hours, no replacement crews

The Port of New York and New Jersey remains one of the nation’s major seaports. During any given day, it imports an abundance of products such as petroleum, appliances, automobiles, plastics, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and food.

The seafarers who bring such cargo ashore usually work every day for as much as 12 hours. When the COVID-19 virus spread, many seafarers agreed to extended contracts in order to ensure that the global goods and supply chain kept chugging. But the longer hours with no breaks or replacement crews mean growing and alarming concerns dealing with safety and regulations.

Along with the 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea, another 200,000 are unable to work, awaiting on shore because crew changeovers are not possible. Many ports bar crews from coming ashore or implement 14-day quarantines.

This also is a humanitarian issue. We can only hope for resolution. But it will not be swift.

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