Hundreds of thousands of seafarers remain stuck at sea during the pandemic

  • Video report from ITV News Meridian reporter RIchard Jones

Hundreds of thousands of sailors remain stuck at sea during the pandemic in what some have called a 'humanitarian crisis.'

Some crews have been unable to get ashore for more than a year because of the coronavirus, as not every country recognises seafarers as key workers.

The UK Chamber of Shipping says "international recognition" for sailors is needed if trade is to continue.

Mark is an officer on board cargo ships, who was six weeks late getting home.

He's says it's physically exhausting working seven days a week, but that the mental fatigue of there being "no end in sight" is just as draining.

"Someone once said to me that working at sea is like being in prison, but you get paid," he said.

"I think a lot of seafarers would agree with that now there is now shore leave and social distancing in vessels.

"It's becoming a very sterile environment."

It's estimated that 400,000 seafarers - among them about 2,500 British sailors - are stranded on board.

The Southampton-based Sailors Society has been collecting books, toiletries, parcels and even Christmas presents for crews at the city's port.

Seafarers are allowed to come ashore in the UK, as they're classed as key workers, but many captains aren't letting their crews leave ship to keep them safe.

"Only this morning, I went to a ship and spoke to n American who said I need social interaction," said Simon Mobsby, a staff member at the society.

"He's been on for a year, he just wanted to talk to me because I'm a different face."

Sara Baade, also from the society, said: "They can't fly home because they are stuck where they are because there are no flights or there are border controls or port restrictions.

"Some are forced to sign another contract and some have been away for 16 or 17 months."

A cargo ship at Southampton Docks Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

The crisis in shipping spreads wider than those stuck on board ships.

There are many sailors who are stuck unable to work because of travel restrictions, Mark explained.

"Many seafarers who live in India or the Phillipines support extended families some have been unpaid for six months," he said.

"We now have a humanitarian crisis where breadwinners aren't earning money, there is no food on plates and they can't pay their rent or mortgages."

The UK Chamber of Shipping says the plight of seafarers is getting worse not better and urgent action is needed.

Bob Sanguinetti, Chief Executive Officer of the Chamber, said:"What needs to change is international recognition of seafarers as essential workers.

"The UK led the way on that band by doing so that enables crews to join and leave their ships despite restrictions on travel so trade can continue to flow."