The world’s foremost transport worker body is welcoming the end to the crisis affecting the MV Ever Given (IMO: 9811000), the cargo vessel that has been blocking the Suez Canal.
“We welcome news that the Ever Given has been freed and the Suez Canal will soon be unblocked. That’s fantastic for the sake of all the seafarers on this ship and others who have been waiting to transit the Suez Canal,” said Stephen Cotton, the General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
The ITF’s union affiliates represent more than a million seafarers and tugboat workers worldwide.
“We want to acknowledge the tireless efforts of the workers aboard the tug boat and towage vessels, and those performing the critical groundworks essential to resolving this situation,” said Cotton.
“This operation has shown us how important tugboats are. There will be dozens of ships across the world that are right now beached, stuck or floating without engine power that are being assisted by tugboat and towage workers working ‘round the clock. They should take pride in how their profession has helped resolve this situation in the world’s busiest waterway. I hope these workers get the recognition they deserve.”
“We express our solidarity with the seafarers, both on the Ever Given, and on the cargo ships who have been queued on either side of it. Seafarers have been expected to keep the world moving during this pandemic by getting all of us the supplies, food, and medicines we need, and then they have had this major blockage to add to their worries.”
Cotton said that if ships were required to round the Cape of Good Hope, circumnavigating the African continent, the route would have added at least 26 days on to the typical cargo vessel’s journey, and more than $800,000 in fuel costs.
“Seafarers have had to deal with a lot in the last year. From being denied shore leave and medical assistance due to closed borders, through to the ongoing crew change crisis: the pandemic has not been kind to seafarers. The last thing they needed was to add weeks to their journeys and time on board.”
“Rounding the Cape of Good Hope would have been a disaster for shipping companies and seafarers. It’s already difficult to get crews changed as it is, and many companies are resisting due to quarantine charges and the current high cost of flights. I expect the delay already caused by the Ever Given’s plight will translate into pressure put onto the shoulders of seafarers to make up for lost time, and some companies will try deferring crew change to recoup the costs caused by the delay.”
Cotton said ITF could confirm the crew of the Panamanian-flagged Ever Given were not yet over-contract, and all were onboard for less than six months.
David Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, said a full investigation was needed to examine if crew fatigue or other issues had been a factor in the events surrounding the vessel’s stranding, as it had been in other maritime accidents.
“Let’s not rush to judgement until all the facts are laid bare. An open and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding this event should be conducted, drawing on necessary input and expertise from the crew and their unions. Of course, the industry needs to learn any lessons that emerge from this incident,” he said.
“Too often, seafarers are unfairly blamed for incidents at sea. When proper investigations are conducted we are able to stand back and see the systematic factors which drive bad outcomes,” said Heindel.
Heindel said the union federation’s initial belief was that the ship ran aground due to high winds, but there has also been speculation that there may have been an engine failure. Such reports remained unconfirmed.
“My hope is that this highly-publicised event at the world’s busiest waterway can give everyone an opportunity to see what tremendous sacrifice seafarers make on a daily basis. The crew change crisis is still happening.”
“Seafarers are heroes, and they need our support – whether they are stuck on the Suez, or whether they are delivering 90 percent of everything at your local port and over contract on their ship,” said Heindel.
- A headshot of Stephen Cotton is available here.
- Stephen Cotton is available for interviews on request to media[at]itf.org.uk
About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice for nearly 20 million working women and men in the transport industry across the world.