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The Newcastle Herald’s Opinion, Saturday, October 10, 2020: Various organisations call for coordinated government action to repatriate seafarers during coronavirus crisis | Newcastle Herald

news, local-news, anacapa light, covid, coronavirus, newcastle, newcastle herald, shipping, seafarer

THE strict protocols that swung into place when the bulk carrier Anacapa Light arrived in Newcastle on Thursday carrying a crew member with a suspected case of coronavirus can be viewed as the sort of vigilance demanded by the circumstances. After all, many of the crew had recently boarded in India, which with 6.8 million known COVID cases is rapidly closing in on the United States, which tops the global tally with 7.6 million infections. Even so, the Anacapa Light should be seen as a rare exception. One of the main weapons against the spread of coronavirus – shutting borders and minimising travel of any sort where necessary – has put most seafarers well away from the virus, while leaving them literally “all at sea”. In this era of globalised trade, most ships’ crews come from poorer nations. By themselves, they have little political clout, but the inhumanity of their isolation has become so obvious that even business lobby groups have joined with the International Labor Organisation, the International Transport Federation and other union-aligned bodies in calling for immediate action. Unfortunately, however, these groups say the calls are falling on deaf ears. Even before coronavirus, an estimated 90 per cent of the world’s international trade was done by sea. With air travel severely limited, more and more cargo is being pushed onto ships. In pursuit of profit, freight rates by sea and air are rising, in some cases dramatically. By international convention, the maximum time that any seafarer should remain on board is 11 months. Instead, there are an estimated 400,000 seafarers who have been on their ships for as long as 17 months, with another 400,000 waiting to replace them, and mostly going without pay as they do. Perhaps surprisingly, there is little sign so far of price rises for our imported goods, despite a situation that the International Chamber of Shipping is describing as an impending “logjam”. While no country can say it has not been warned, it may well take a tragedy – a shipping collision or a reef grounding with a major oil spill, for example – before anything happens. As a region that gains much of its wealth from coal exports, it is in our interest to see those seafarers who want to leave their waterborne prisons safely repatriated. ISSUE: 39,435. While you’re with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news – sign up here IN OTHER NEWS:

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