IMO launches a year of action for seafarers

The World Maritime Theme for 2021 is dedicated to seafarers, highlighting their central role in the future of shipping.

IMO has chosen to make 2021 a year of action for seafarers, who are facing unprecedented hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite their vital role as key workers for global supply chains.

The World Maritime Theme for 2021, “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future” seeks to increase the visibility of seafarers by drawing attention to the invaluable role they play now and will continue to play in the future.


The COVID-19 pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on seafarers, with hundreds of thousands of men and women stranded on ships for months beyond their original contracts, unable to be repatriated due to national travel restrictions.

A similar number of seafarers are unable to join ships and earn a living. This crew change crisis, which has been ongoing for nearly a year, is a humanitarian emergency that threatens the safety of shipping.

Launching the World Maritime theme on 16 February, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said more Governments must step up to end the crew change crisis.

“We all must do better to support our brave professionals who continue to deliver global trade. The dedication and professionalism of more than one and a half million seafarers worldwide deserve our great admiration and gratitude – but most importantly, immediate action,” Mr. Lim said.


“A first step would be for all countries to designate seafarers as key workers, as outlined in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution adopted in December,” Mr. Lim added, referring to the UNGA resolution on International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains.


Key worker designation is crucial to ensure seafarers can travel to and from ships and will facilitate access to priority vaccination. To date, 55 IMO Member States and two Associate Members have designated seafarers as key workers (click here for the full list).


Throughout the year, the World Maritime Theme will also put the spotlight on other issues related to the human element of shipping, including the safety and security of life on board ships, seafarers’ well-being, and the importance of ensuring an appropriately trained and qualified workforce, ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of digitalization and automation.


The focus on seafarers is also in line with the work carried out by the Organization, since the beginning of the pandemic and before. “At IMO, seafarers have always been at the centre of all our work – be it in the area of safety, maritime security, or environmental protection,” IMO Secretary-General said.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be discussed by the Sub-Committee on Human element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW), which is taking place this week (15-19 February).

Making voices of seafarers heard

As part of its efforts to put seafarers at the heart of discussions, IMO is launching a series of profiles in which seafarers express their views on their work and the future of shipping.

In the first profile, Chief Engineer Matt Forster (United Kingdom) highlighted the importance of making seafarers more visible, particularly in the context of the crew change crisis.

“We’re the pillars of the supply chains around the world. Trade is coming by sea. But because people are not aware of us, we don’t get the support we need. We want people to know that it is the men and women within our industry that provide them with everything they need for their day-to-day lives. It’s not for praise, it’s to assist us in being recognised, to help us to get home, to see our families, to be with our loved ones, and to continue this supply chain going,” Mr Forster said.


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