Crew members on board commercial vessels are facing unique hardships during the pandemic. Many are confined to their vessels and unable to return home as borders close, flights are grounded and fear of contagion from outsiders continues to spread. The situation has grown dire enough that ship owners and transport workers have started jointly lobbying the United Nations to facilitate crew changes by encouraging member states to give mariners the right to travel in and out of their countries. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) estimates that 100,000 seafarers per month are unable to return home or be relieved by new crews because of the pandemic. While Canada is one of the few countries that have exempted maritime crews from travel restrictions to facilitate the flow of world trade, delays in other countries can still leave seafarers trapped on their ships in Canadian ports.
On Friday evenings at 7:00 pm, ships all along the coast of British Columbia will sound their horns in solidarity to thank all workers in the province and globally who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This audible celebration of frontline workers by the marine shipping industry is noteworthy, as the essential marine transportation workforce also continues to support the movement of critical cargo, some of which directly supports medical efforts, and ensures the delivery of supplies that keep our communities functioning during the pandemic.This marine workforce includes longshoreman, terminal operators, tug operators, seafarers from Canada and all over the world, marine pilots, port staff, and professional mariners, vessel traffic controllers, and inspectors from Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Canada Border Services Agency. With the current threat of COVID-19, their workplace challenges are immense, and they are working collaborative to find innovative and safe ways to keep ships and cargo moving.