(Bloomberg) — Investors managing more than $2 trillion of assets are calling on world leaders to address the “unfolding humanitarian crisis at sea” where marine workers are stranded due to border closures and restrictions on movement imposed to contain Covid-19.
The 85-member investor group, which is led by Fidelity International and includes Lombard Odier Investment Management and MFS Investment Management, wants seafarers to be officially designated as “key workers” and requested the “establishment of systematic processes to enable safe crew changes.”
In an open letter to the United Nations, the investors called for efforts to ensure seafarers spend no more than the legal maximum of 11 months on board and to limit any unavoidable extensions of crew contracts.
As the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic spread in early 2020, country after country shut their borders and closed ports, a situation that left more than 400,000 seafarers stranded on ships and working for much longer than 11 months, with a similar number of marine workers stuck ashore with little prospect for work or pay.
In addition to the health and safety risks posed to seafarers from extended time at sea, it’s also a threat to the movement of goods in the global economy since 90% of world trade depends on ships.
“We believe it’s imperative the industry collectively sounds the alarm on an overlooked global humanitarian issue and protect our global supply chains,” said Jenn-Hui Tan, global head of stewardship and sustainable investing at London-based Fidelity International, in a statement. “Together, as stewards of capital, we have a broader responsibility to the communities and societies in which we operate.”
The investor group, which also includes Achmea Investment Management, Boston Common Asset Management and Domini Impact Investments, said those who frequently charter ships should be flexible with route deviation requests by shipping companies in order to enable crew change. They also should consider financial support for the costs of crew repatriation.
The signatories of the letter have agreed to engage relevant portfolio companies and communicate their expectations around these measures. Fidelity International, which is independent from Boston-based Fidelity Investments, wrote last year to more than 30 companies in the shipping and charter sectors asking them to address the problem.
Tan said the firm, which oversees more than $600 billion, is actively engaging with relevant companies across the shipping, cargo, airline and retail industries, “encouraging them to lead the way in the international efforts to address this issue.”
“Seafarers, trapped by their jurisdiction and Covid-19 restrictions, are yet another group of essential workers facing a humanitarian crisis in this pandemic,” said Corey Klemmer, director of engagement at Domini Impact Investments. “We need companies and their industry groups to step up and address the issue for the sake of these workers and our global economy.”
A Bloomberg investigation published in September found numerous violations of international maritime law designed to protect seafarers, including allegations of unpaid overtime and insufficient medical attention.
More than 120 countries or territories had stopped or limited access for ships to conduct seafarer changes in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And while many shipping lines had managed piecemeal crew changes, the backlog of crew swaps has far outpaced relief efforts.