Saturday 08 August 2020

All at sea: 250,000 maritime workers stranded by coronavirus and visa rules

Loading container ships in Rotterdam. Photo: Depositphotos.com

The Dutch government has been urged to ease visa restrictions for maritime workers to allow 250,000 stranded seamen to go home, the NRC reports.

The international trade organisation for shipowners and operators, ICA, said there were growing concerns about the safety and mental health of seamen stuck on merchant ships in major international ports such as Rotterdam since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

ICA chief Guy Platten said in a letter to junior justice minister Ankie Broekers-Knol that the Netherlands should use its influence as a major shipping and transport hub to secure an easing of visa restrictions.

The current rules, which require seamen to fly home within 72 hours of setting foot in a port, are unworkable because of the impact of coronavirus on flight schedules and inland travel, the ICA says.

Most Dutch seamen have returned home but crew members from outside Schengen countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia and India are unable to leave their ships. It is not known how many seamen are stranded in Rotterdam.

The Dutch association of shipowners KNVR, which has joined the ICA in calling for a ‘more pragmatic and flexible attitude’ from the Dutch government, said the 72-hour window is unrealistic, KNVR director Annet Koster told NRC.

‘If you arrive in Rotterdam port today and your flight doesn’t go until next week you don’t get a visa,’ she said. Some crew members have been on board their ships for over a year, Koster added.

‘The Netherlands is an important hub for the relief of crews but instead of taking its responsibility it is pointing the finger at other member countries,’ she said. ‘A month of easier visa requirements would solve the problem in a month,’ she said. ‘These people won’t disappear into the illegal circuit, they have a job and a goal: to go home.’

The ICA warned earlier that the situation poses a danger to the future of merchant shipping, with many supply chains interrupted.

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