Five percent of crew respondents said that there had been a case of COVID-19 on board their vessel. One seafarer responding to the survey wrote: “Out of a crew of 95, almost one-third of the crew tested positive. Many of those of certain nationalities were then fired after recovering.”

Provisions for looking after crew during treatment or quarantine is also worrying. One crew member wrote: “Most crew infected or recovers, overall [feeling] onboard is one of fear, stress and worthlessness.” It is unclear whose responsibility it is to look after crew members who have disembarked and are left to quarantine in hotels and some reported not being paid during this time.

LR's senior principal human factors consultant, Jo Stokes thinks that shipowners or managers should be responsible for the seafarers all the way.

She said, “If a person tests positive and needs to go into quarantine, it should be the responsibility of the company to cover the expenses occurred during that period (hotel, food, etc.) and to pay salary for that duration.”

Stokes added that it would help if the International Labour Organization updates the Maritime Labour Convention to define the responsibilities of companies during the quarantine periods to make sure seafarers are treated fairly.

The situation is not any better for those hoping to resume work following quarantine, due to a lack of pastoral care from their companies.

One seafarer wrote: “There was no support from [my company]. Not one email asking how I was etc. I was left in a Brazilian hotel room for three weeks. Not allowed out of the room and given three meals a day, with very little choice. I had no access to Wi-Fi, television or phone services.”

UK Chamber of Shipping’s policy director (Employment and Legal) Tim Springett told LR that companies owe the crew a duty of care to fulfil their health and safety obligations.

He said, “All efforts must be put in place to protect the workforce by reducing risk of infection, preventing physical accidents and supporting the mental wellbeing of crew.”

Stokes said that it is understandable that people returning to work after a long break need to be supported.

She suggested, “A phased return to work is not possible for seafarers. Therefore, consideration needs to be given to those returning to sea as fatigue levels will likely be higher in the first few weeks. Propensity for human error will therefore also likely be higher and additional support / hours off may need to be considered.”

“Perhaps doubling manpower for a short period or increasing handover durations would support this transition, where cabin space and social distancing allows. These measures can also support those crew on COVID-19 extended contracts by shortening their working hours for the last 2 weeks. Appropriate quarantine measures should be in place for embarking crew to avoid the crew contracting COVID-19.”