Seafarers stranded amid COVID seek repatriation to return home

The following is from the Pacific Coast Coalition for Seafarers:

(Sept. 16, 2020) — Members and friends of the Pacific Coast Coalition for Seafarers held a press conference and community event Tuesday to call for a pathway for seafarers to return home amid the pandemic. Under COVID-19, an international ban has been placed on crew changes for ships. While more than 300,000 seafarers remain stranded at sea beyond their originally stipulated contracts, many of those seafarers remain along the Pacific Coast in the Portland and Vancouver area.

Photo by Justin Katigbak

Members and Friends of the Pacific Coast Coalition for Seafarers, including representatives from ILWU Local 4, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), the Portland Seafarers Mission and the Port of Vancouver spoke at the event. (Watch the event recording on Facebook.)

“The conditions of seafarers are horrific even before they arrive at our ports. All we are asking of you is to be community ambassadors, to show compassion and support for the brief amount of time they are docked in our cities,” said Martin Larson, the ITF representative for the Columbia River. He and others described the severe exploitation that seafarers face at sea, a significant labor rights issue that began long before the pandemic hit.

One of the central issues of the conference was the call for home governments of seafarers to repatriate their workers so that they are no longer stranded at sea during the pandemic. Speakers called on attendees to help pressure these governments to listen to the demands of their workers.

“Some of the seafarers I’ve met this summer have been on board for almost a year and are longing to go home to their families. Their fellow seafarers from Ukraine have flown home while all the Filipino seafarers on board are stuck with no guarantee for repatriation because the Philippine government has no clear plan for them,” said Fredi Misay of Migrante PDX, a mass organization of overseas Filipino workers.

The Coalition called on its supporters to raise the seafarers’ demands for repatriation to their home governments and to use whatever leverage they have available to make this demand heard.

The Pacific Coalition for Seafarers launched on June 25 after months of collaboration between local organizations to gather community support to meet the basic physical and social needs of seafarers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coalition’s vision is unity between land and sea, and communities in solidarity with seafarers. It’s mission is to enjoin community members and organizations along the Pacific Coast to generate resources and foster solidarity to uphold the dignity, rights, and welfare of seafarers. Member organizations include the Portland Seafarers Mission, Fort Vancouver Seafarers Center, local ITF Inspector Martin Larson, ILWU Local 4, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Migrante Portland, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns Portland, International Migrants Alliance US Chapter, and the Philippine US Solidarity Organization Vancouver Chapter.

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