Fidelity International has led 85 investors to urge the UN to address a humanitarian crisis at sea, with the long-term sustainability of global supply chains at stake.
The investors representing over US$2 trillion in assets have noted that due to COVID-19, more than 400,000 seafarers are stranded at sea, with many having worked for up to 17 months, substantially surpassing the regulatory limit of 11 months.
A further 400,000 workers have remained ashore waiting to relieve them, reporting to often receive little or no pay.
The International Chamber of Shipping has estimated the number of seafarers affected could reach 1 million if the issue is not quickly addressed.
Fidelity has expressed concerns around health and safety, referring to elevated mental and physical stress and the potential for major risk where exhausted seafarers handle dangerous or perishable cargo. It has also pointed to environmental risks involving cargo.
Companies such as MFS Investment Management and Achmea Investment Management have signed the open letter to the UN, calling for a number of measures, including making sure seafarers don’t spend more than their legal maximum of 11 months onboard.
The signatories have also asked for pressure on charterers to be flexible with route deviation requests from shipping companies to facilitate crew change and to consider financial support for the costs of crew repatriation.
Currently, seafarers are not officially designated as “key workers”, but the letter have called for a change, as well as the establishment of safety processes such as testing regimes.
Jenn-Hui Tan, global head of stewardship and sustainable investing at Fidelity International commented the issue is “no longer a shipping industry problem nor a crisis that the shipping industry can resolve on [its] own”.
“Shipping is responsible for 90 per cent of global trade and holds the key not just to a global economic recovery from the devastation of COVID-19, but to maintaining our current way of life,” Mr Tan said.
“Seafarers must be classified as key workers to enable them to perform their essential services in a safe and secure manner.
“We believe it’s imperative the industry collectively sounds the alarm on an overlooked global humanitarian issue and protect our global supply chains.”
The open letter was written in consultation with the International Labor Organisation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
Corey Klemmer, director of engagement at signatory firm Domini Impact Investments added seafarers have been trapped by their jurisdiction and COVID-19 restrictions, making them “yet another group of essential workers facing a humanitarian crisis”.
“We need companies and their industry groups to step up and address the issue for the sake of these workers and our global economy,” he said.
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].