Authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have launched an initiative to protect the rights and welfare of seafarers, a development that comes amidst global concerns that the plights of seafarers have largely been ignored.
The UAE government said the initiative dubbed ‘Supporting our Blue Army’ is designed to improve the quality of life for seafarers by protecting their rights with shipowners and operating companies, as well as helping them overcome the challenges they face due to COVID-19 disruptions.
“We’ve launched the ‘Supporting our Blue Army’ initiative to be one of the first countries to recognize and appreciate marine crews and put them on an equal footing with priority categories such as medical personnel, especially in such circumstances where seafarers played a key role in mitigating the devastating effects on the global economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure.
He added that owing to the fact that the UAE is a logistical hub, the country wants to be at the forefront of protecting seafarers and will not tolerate any shipowner or operating company that fails to perform its duties towards seafarers or abandons them on board ships on the UAE shores.
In that respect, the country intends to bar ships that violate the rights of seafarers from entering the UAE waters besides taking proactive measures to ensure that the marine system in the country does not allow such violations of the rights of seafarers and crews.
The move by the UAE to protect the welfare of seafarers comes at a time when the world maritime community is grappling with sensitive issues affecting seafarers including vaccination, crew change, labour rights, safety at sea among others.
The Vatican, among other organizations, has repeatedly accused governments, shipping companies, crew agencies and international organizations of failure to uphold seafarers’ safety, labour and human rights amidst significant suffering due to COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions.
Cases of seafarers being stranded at sea due to COVID-19 restrictions have been on the rise, a situation that has exacerbated their mental and physical anguish, pushing many to commit suicide.
Through the ‘Supporting our Blue Army’ initiative, the UAE will provide material and moral support to seafarers, provide them with free treatment and COVID-19 vaccines and allow crew replacement.
So far, more than 214,000 seafarers confined to their ships have been assisted in the replacement process and facilitated to go back to their home countries.
The UAE initiative follows a Cabinet resolution on marine wrecks and violating ships that obliges all UAE flagships and foreign flagships in UAE waters or calling at UAE ports to guarantee the rights of seafarers and fulfil their needs.
The UAE is a logistics hub linking global shipping lines and boasts of a significant share of ships calling on the region’s ports, with more than 21,000 ships annually.
Over 20,000 local and international maritime companies operate in the country with over 17 million containers handled at its ports annually.
“These operations add significant economic returns to the national economy. All these achievements cannot be made without the dedication of thousands of seafarers who arrive to the UAE’s waters on board ships from across the world,” noted Al Mazrouei.