International 24-hour helpline SeafarerHelp, operated by the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), has experienced a surge in demand as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affects seafarers worldwide.
In April 2020 alone, ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp handled over 600 new cases – more than triple the number in the same month last year. Many of these cases involve seafarers experiencing issues as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, up to 1 May 2020, the helpline has recorded over 470 COVID-19-related cases affecting more than 7,000 seafarers.
So far, the most common COVID-19-related problem reported by seafarers to SeafarerHelp is difficulty with repatriation. Crews around the world have been left stranded, unable to disembark from their vessels due to port restrictions or unable to make their home once ashore due to lockdown measures. In cases such as these, SeafarerHelp’s helpline officers work with a network of organisations including ship owners, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), government agencies, welfare bodies, and ISWAN’s own regional teams in the Philippines, India and Nigeria, who are in close contact with their national maritime authorities, to arrange the help the seafarers need.