While the plight of stranded seafarers has been well documented – with little movement so far to speed up their repatriation – the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has interviewed several who agreed to share their stories, all of which are published on the IMO website. This is one of them.
Matt is a 35-year-old chief engineer from the United Kingdom. He and his colleagues have not been able to be repatriated despite their contracts being well overdue, as border closures and visa requirements have made crew changes impossible for them. He speaks of the difficulties of being away from his two children, aged 8 and 12.
Can you describe your current situation and the difficulties you are facing?
“Myself, like most of the crew onboard, are now well overdue on our contracts. The officers onboard have 10-week rotation contracts. Most of us have now been onboard for six months. Some for more. It is even worse for the crew. Their contracts are nine months and I have one engine rating who has been onboard for 15 months. The main difficulty we are facing is crew change. We sail mainly in the Middle East and Asia and currently most countries in this region have very strict regulations that make crew change near impossible.”
How are you feeling about all this?
“I think we’ve been through all the emotions to be honest. A lot of anger in the beginning as we had to watch all the borders close. However, we knew the health risk and we could understand why it was happening. We tried to remain hopeful but as time has passed it seems like little has changed. Personally, I feel let down and disheartened that little seems to be being done. There is a lot of talk but no action.”
How is it to be away from your family in this context?
“Hard, really hard. I mean I’ve done long contracts before, but this is different. It has a psychological effect as there is no end in sight. So it affects family life a lot more. My children are always asking, when am I coming home. It’s difficult to explain. Some of us onboard have had news that family members caught Covid-19 and that was really hard to deal with. Thankfully they all pulled through.”
How is the ambiance onboard?
“It changes daily. Some days people are upbeat and then the next depressed. As part of the senior management onboard you try to promote hope that things will change onboard but it’s hard. We have tried to form a tight group to watch out for each other. Some of the people onboard are finding it harder than others so we have to keep a close eye on them.”
Is there a message you would like to send to the world?
“I would say that as seafarers we have more than played our part during this pandemic. We have kept countries supplied with everything they could need: PPE and medical supplies, oil and gas to keep power stations running, food and water to keep people fed. All we want in return is to be able to come home and rest. To allow our reliefs to come and take over from us, so that in time we can do the same for them. We are hanging in here but we are tired and mentally fatigued. We need the support of world governments to allow us to transit through their countries without restrictions. Time frames for visas need to be reduced or scrapped altogether. This needs to happen now. The delay is going to have a detrimental effect on the maritime industry. There has been more than enough time for talking, now we need to see real action.”