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Exclusive: Former Navy chief calls on UK to create 'safe corridors' to end 'humanitarian disaster' facing sailors

Lord West has urged ministers to take the lead in protecting sailors

3 min read

The former head of the Royal Navy has urged ministers to create “safe corridors” to end the "humanitarian disaster" facing seafarers stranded across the globe.

Lord West, who served as the UK's First Sea Lord, has warned 1.8m sailors are being pushed to "breaking point" due to limits imposed on maritime vessels as a result of coronavirus travel restrictions.

The former admiral said over 400,000 sailors have been left "stranded" because they are blocked from disembarking in their home countries or travelling to other ports to allow crew changes, with many stuck at sea for months beyond limits set under maritime law.

Writing for The House, he said: "There are growing concerns over the fatigue of seafarers resulting from this crisism, as many are serving well beyond their normal tours of duty, which raises concerns over safety.

"Under maritime rules, a seafarer is allowed to spend 11 months at sea, but some have now been at sea for up to 15 months.

"Ships have already refused to sail and matters will worsen as captains could be found criminally culpable if they sailed a vessel where concerns of fatigue had been raised."

His comments come after the International Maritime Organisation urged governments to take action to protect merchant fleets, warning that global trade was being put at risk as a result of the crisis.

Working alongside unions, the group also called for sailors to be designated as "key workers", allowing them to travel without restrictions, as well as setting up "safe corridors" to allow ships to travel freely.

And while the UK has already given the designation to sailors, the group warned there was a lack of global coordination in protecting merchant trade.

But Lord West urged British ministers to lead the effort, saying the change was "fundamental" to the recovery of the global economy.

"The UK remains a great maritime nation and our government should take the lead in implementing measures to ensure action is taken worldwide to safeguard the sailors who will ensure UK and global recovery as the present crisis subsides," he wrote.

"That seaborne trade is currently assessed as worth $7 trillion and is at risk.

"Governments need to understand these are essential workers and there is an urgent need to establish safe corridors between key countries and key crew change hubs around the world.

"All parts of the global shipping industry are aware of the problem but someone has to coordinate action and the UK is well placed to take the lead not least as London remains the focus for world shipping."

He added: "Lastly although fundamental to the UK’s and worldwide economic recovery this is a pressing humanitarian issue, the welfare of our and other seamen must not be forgotten. We owe them so much."

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