By Milena Barbosa de Melo
Doctor, Master, and specialist in International Law by the University of Coimbra – Portugal; Professor at the State University of Paraíba; Academic Director of the National Agency of Studies for the Right to Development (“Agência Nacional de Estudos em Direito ao Desenvolvimento); Developer of Online Educational Materials
As it can be seen in our daily lives, the Coronavirus pandemic drastically changed the way we live and perceive the world. Its multiple effects impacted all social and commercial activities, including maritime trade.
The impact of Covid-19 was highly significant, since there was a large-scale decrease in the use of maritime transports due to the blockages of ports in many parts of the world. Additionally, this decrease was responsible for the reduction of GHG in the environment in 2020, as is highlighted by the report of International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Still regarding the drastic effects of the pandemic on commercial maritime activities, something that stands out is the issue of seafarers or sailors (professionals responsible for the activities on the vessels). Many of them were stuck on the ships for a long period, unable to return home because of the blockade of ports.
According to data from the IMO, almost 400 thousand seafarers awaited expatriation throughout the year 2020, so the International Labor Organization (ILO), through the Maritime Labour Convention, invited countries to make efforts to help the seafarers’ repatriation process and to place these professionals as priorities in the vaccination program for Covid-19.
The Convention purpose would be to facilitate the lives of seafarers who are fully working during the pandemic, many of them making a great effort to meet the demands of the commercial sea flow, without neither the prospect of nor vaccination.
Consequently, the member countries of ILO and IMO joined efforts and managed to reduce by 50% the number of professionals awaiting their return home.
However, even with the repatriation of half the seafarers, it is worth noting that the maritime trade cannot be stagnant and to stay in full operation, the labor of these professionals is necessary.
Therefore, while the remaining seafarers need to return home, others must replace them so that they can continue the services provided. The problem at the moment is that the pandemic is not controlled in all parts of the world, since due to the lack of financial resources or adequate management, in some places, the numbers of cases and deaths remain high.
Because even with pandemic being under control in some places, not all countries have achieved the same level of success due to the lack of financial resources and adequate management, making it difficult to replace seafarers. 
There is no way to contain the maritime commerce because the world needs supplies so we need the seafarers, hence we cannot accept these professionals’ permanence in the sea for a long period without replacing them or blocking their entrance in foreign countries.
The solution is the urgent adoption of the guidelines established by the ILO’s resolution, so that seafarers are included as key workers and, consequently, get treated fairly.
Much needs to be done by the member countries of the ILO, because less than 60 countries understood the seafarers’ importance, but they are already working not only to guarantee that these professionals get into the priority vaccination list but also to facilitate their trips to and from their workstation.
Every effort should be made to enable the seafarers’ professional activities, for the sake of humanity and for the survival of the maritime trade. This way, any national measure that may hinder the seafarers’ vaccination must be considered a violation of Human Rights. This may further complicate the crew changes which are already too complex.
 IMO. International Maritime Organization. Maritime Human Rights Risks and the Covid-19 Crew Change Crisis: A Tool to Support Human Rights Due Diligence. Available at: https://wwwcdn.imo.org/localresources/en/MediaCentre/Documents/Maritime%20Human%20Rights%20Risks%20and%20the%20COVID-19%20Crew%20Change%20Crisis%2020210425.pdf.
 ILO. New due diligence tool aims to help businesses uphold their responsibility to protect human rights at sea. 2021. Available at: https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/pages /Due-Diligence-Tool.aspx; ILO. General observation on matters arising from the application of the Maritime Labour Convention. 2020. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—normes/documents/publication/wcms_764384.pdf
 IMO. New due diligence tool aims to help businesses uphold their responsibility to protect human rights at sea. 2021. Available at: https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/pages /Due-Diligence-Tool.aspx