Jointly the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are calling on seafarers across the world to sound their ships’ horns when in port at midday local time on 1 May 2020.

1 May marks International Workers’ Day (or Labour Day), with about 66 countries around the world (and many more unofficially) celebrating the contribution made by workers.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, it is especially important to recognise the contributions made by all maritime workers, including seafarers but also other on-board and onshore personnel, who are ensuring that medical supplies, fuel and food continue to be transported safely across the world. At the moment, they are doing so while working under extreme conditions, such as being unable to go home for even longer periods of time than usual, due to travel restrictions and difficulties in changing crews on vessels.

According to the ICS, there are over 1.6 million seafarers worldwide who keep the world’s merchant fleet at sea, with the shipping industry moving 90 per cent of the world’s trade.[1]

In Europe alone, there are 685,000 maritime workers in shipping, with some 555,000 of them at sea. They are all working hard to ensure that supplies continue to flow to millions around the world.[2]

In line with the recommendations by the ICS and ITF for all governments to facilitate the free movement of seafarers, as set out in a joint letter on 7 April 2020, the UK became, on 19 March 2020, the world’s first nation to declare seafarers as key workers.[3] This allows seafarers to travel to and from work (as appropriate) and also means that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the children of seafarers can continue to attend schools (which are closed to the majority of pupils in the UK).

Alongside their pledge to facilitate the free movement of seafarers, the ICS and ITF have called on all governments to:

  • Designate a specific and limited number of airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crew.
  • Redefine seafarers as key workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, lifting national restrictions designed for passengers and non-essential personnel.
  • Deliver their commitment to keeping supply chains open by taking urgent measures on the issue.

Prior to blowing their horns, ships should, of course, ensure that appropriate clearance is sought where required.

[1] International Chamber of Shipping see: