Well some things change a lot, some things change a little bit and some things stay the same. So we can say, looking across the MCG horizon that the threat from COVID-19 still remains.
The summer has been relatively benign as the disease perhaps took a knock from all the countermeasures and the good weather. Sadly in most parts of the world, its prevalence seems to be rising again. This of some concern as many of the maritime charities have already realised reserves in order to meet demand for COVID-19 related grants and other assistance and a further big demand will place them in more difficult financial circumstances. So it is with a degree of trepidation that we see the R number increasing and the possibility, or probability of increased restrictions and maritime job losses.
A glimmer of hope in this area is the work done by many of the MCG members, in association with the RMT and Nautilus, to seek out opportunities for retraining and redeploying seafarers within the maritime Industries. Here the work of Trinity House building links and bridges between potential employers and the other parties has been most noteworthy. There is a way to go but progress is being made in particular looking at opportunities in the off-shore industries, with smaller cruise operators and super yachts.
One thing that has changed a bit is that there are now fewer seafarers stuck at sea: 300,000 as opposed to somewhere between 400,000 and half a million when the lockdown first occurred. Nonetheless it was good to see that this dilemma has been raised by the Secretary General of the IMO, Mr Kitak Lim, and supported by the other UN agencies in the call for action by Member States. To this end there was a High Level Meeting on Crew Changes at a side meeting of the 75th UN General Assembly on World Maritime Day, Thursday 24 September.
It is to be hoped that despite the increase in prevalence of the disease this meeting will help rectify the situation for those seafarers who are still either stranded at sea or ashore. Their plight has been ameliorated to a degree by the Port Missions providing advice, guidance, Wi-Fi and even necessities such as toothpaste.
It is also worthy of note that the Lloyds Register Foundation, an MCG member, is currently conducting a survey into the impact of Covid-19 on Global Seafarers. To participate in the survey go to: https://webropol.com/s/survey-seafarers-during-pandemic . By the time you read this the Foundation will also have hosted a digital summit on ‘The Future of Global Safety’ (22 September 20).
Something that has perhaps changed a lot as a result of the Pandemic, is the realisation that while all the maritime charities may have a particular niche, there is a very great deal to be gained for our beneficiaries through even greater co-operation. This is not just in almonising (sharing the burden of a grant) and communicating a joined up message, but also in the way services may be delivered and sourced. A notable example is all that Seafarers UK and The Fishmongers Livery Company have done since March not just to ease the immediate needs of fishers but to help them make their futures more robust.
The summer lull in the onslaught of COVID-19 has not only allowed the charities to take financial stock but to return to those pressing problems which were perforce moved to the back of the stove by the Pandemic. A key one brought back into the heat has been the future of caseworking in support of the maritime charities and this is a conundrum which will take some time to resolve.
The lull also saw the soft launch of the revamped Seafarers Support website, hosted for all the 140+ maritime charities by the Merchant Navy Welfare Board.
To close on a forward-looking positive note, 2021 will see the 4th MCG conference which is to be held in the autumn. Let us hope it does not have to be virtual!
Tell your crew, tell your colleagues, tell your mates.
Commander Graham Hockley LVO RN