Maritime Workers Continue to Struggle Amid COVID-19

maritime workers

The maritime industry is huge.  There are more than one million maritime workers working on 60,000 ships across the world.  These ships transport 80 percent of the world’s trade goods.  These goods include everything from cell phones to frozen meat, chemicals to automobiles.

Sadly, many maritime workers are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Workers in all areas of the maritime industry are caught up in what the United Nations calls a “humanitarian crisis.” The impacts are felt by workers on cruise ships, cargo ships and tankers.

Maritime Workers Struggle Amid COVID-19

Maritime workers are facing a variety of issues due to COVID-19.  Primarily:

  • At least 250,000 seafarers completed their contracts but have not been relieved.
  • Workers have been stuck on board ships after their contracts have ended, without being paid.
  • Hundreds of thousands of maritime workers are at home waiting to find out when they may get more work.
  • Workers whose contracts are complete face barriers to returning home due to travel restrictions.
  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) Seafarers’ Bill of Rights states that a maritime worker’s tour of duty should last less than 12 months. Some workers have been stranded onboard ships for 15 months.
  • Maritime workers who have been stranded for weeks on ships are struggling with mental health issues. There have been several suicides.

In addition, the families of maritime workers are also struggling.  Many haven’t seen their loved ones in over a year.  Sadly, many still don’t know when they may be able to bring their loved ones home.

Are Maritime Workers Forced into Involuntary Servitude?

One of the more concerning issues for maritime workers is what some are calling “involuntary servitude.” Maritime workers generally work on contract, with their agreements ranging from two to 10 months.  Depending on their level of training and experience, salaries range from $400 to $1,000 per month for crew members.  Captains can earn up to $10,000 per month.  Once their contract is fulfilled, the worker gets a free trip home.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not what is happening.  Many maritime workers have been forced to remain on ships far past their contracts.  The United Nations and Pope Francis have both weighed in on this idea, as has the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which says,

“When seafarers have finished their extended contracts, they are fatigued physically and/or mentally and feel that they are not fit to continue to safely perform their duties at the level required of a professional.  The responsible action at this point is not to extend their contract and request repatriation.  This is not an incitement to go on strike! Their contract has finished and, once a ship is safely in harbour, they have the right not to extend.”

The ITF says that they will support maritime workers who refuse an extension and choose to stop working.  If enough workers onboard a ship exercise their right to refuse an extension, then the ship has to remain anchored.

Risks for Working in the Maritime Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly impacting maritime workers.  However, it is worth noting that the maritime industry is difficult, even on the best day.  Maritime crew members spend months at sea working in high temperatures, difficult weather conditions and around large equipment.  They are at risk for a variety of maritime injuries, including:

These injuries can be life-altering, not only for the worker, but also for his or her family.

Maritime Worker Rights

The good news for maritime workers is that they have legal rights.  Specific state and federal laws and general maritime laws protect seamen, seafarers, deckhands and longshoremen.  When they are injured on the job, they have the right to pursue maintenance and cure benefits, which cover medical costs and costs of daily living.

If you are a maritime worker suffering an on-the-job injury, or you have questions about your legal rights during COVID-19, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  Our legal professionals can help you understand which maritime laws and benefits apply to you.  Schedule a free injury consultation by calling us at 1-866-871-8422.  You can also email us via our online contact form.