Honk if you love seafarers

Seafarers around the world are being asked to sound their ships’ horns when in port at noon Friday as a show of solidarity.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are encouraging the sounding of ship horns marking International Workers’ Day as a “gesture of solidarity to recognize over 1.6 million seafarers across the world, the unsung heroes of global trade who are keeping countries supplied with food, fuel and important supplies such as vital medical equipment not only through the COVID-19 pandemic but every day.”

Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary, said seafarers are critical to ensure goods continue to be transported around the world during the coronavirus crisis.

“Governments should see this as a call to action to facilitate crew changes and the free movement of seafarers so that they can continue to keep supply chains moving in these unprecedented times,” Cotton said.

Due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the maritime industry has seen seafarers extending their time on board ships after lengthy periods at sea, according to a joint release from the ITF and ICS. They said about 100,000 merchant seafarers each month need to be changed over from the ships on which they operate to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations protecting safety, health and welfare.

The ITF, which represents 215 seafarers unions, also is calling for COVID-19 to be recognized as an occupational disease.

“Like any hazard, it is the responsibility of employers to protect their workers from it as far as practicable. That means strict hygiene measures, social distancing, sufficient personal protective equipment … and testing, tracing and tracking protocols for exposed workers and those they may have come into contact with,” the ITF said in a statement.

Recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease “would ensure the right to worker representation and occupational safety and health rights and the application of agreed measures to reduce risk,” the ITF said. “These rights would include the right to refuse to work under unsafe working conditions. Governments must require reporting and recording of work-related cases and ensure that full medical care as well as compensation schemes are provided for victims of work-related COVID-19 and for their affected families.”

Among the International Workers’ Day observances, the Port of Newcastle’s David Allan dredger as well as about 14 commercial vessels at the Australian port will sound their horns at noon Friday.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic has demonstrated how vital it is to maintain the flow of trade through the nation’s ports to ensure the Australian community has essential supplies and businesses can continue to import and export goods,” Port of Newcastle officials said.

In Ireland, the Port of Cork said it had invited vessels “to sound their horns at the stroke of midday.”

Paul O’Regan, Port of Cork harbormaster, said, “COVID 19 has meant that we have had to adjust how we work while not changing the reasons why we work. This small effort by mariners salutes the efforts of those who are spending time away from their families, either at sea or on the medical front line on shore.”

The Cyprus Shipping Chamber called on its members to sound their ships’ horns wherever they are Friday. President Philippos Philis said the horns would serve as “symbolic applause” for seafarers around the world.

May 1 also is celebrated as Workers’ Day, Labor Day or May Day.