Kiwi Seafarers working internationally have been forgotten by the New Zealand government, their request for support keeps being ignored and their status as essential workers continues to be overlooked.
Many Kiwi Seafarers are stuck outside of New Zealand borders on vessels and in foreign ports. These Seafarers are unable to return home because of the inflexibility of the Managed Isolation Allocation System (MIAS). The system was set up to assist returning New Zealanders to secure a place in an MIQ facility, Representatives from MBIE have confirmed that the MIAS is not equipped to deal with the nature of seafaring. The rigidity of the booking system means that, if there has been any shift in crew change dates, which can be a common occurrence, Seafarers cannot change their allocation date to get into an MIQ facility.
If a seafarer is unable to depart their vessel on their original travel date, they often have no choice but to remain on board working 12-hour days every day, or if they are fortunate enough to obtain a short notice visa, be subjected to expensive isolation and accommodation in a foreign country until flights and an MIQ booking becomes available. More often than not however, they cannot obtain a visa to stay in the country. This means being stuck on board their ship, extending their contracts, for substantial lengths of time, while they try to rearrange a new MIAS booking to line up with their vessel's movements. It is an impossible situation.
Why don't kiwi seafarers book using the MIAS like everyone else? Because it is unrealistic. Aside from the current four month wait for a room in MIQ, it is quite common for a vessels internet and phone connections to be unreliable, or even nonexistent. Furthermore, crew change dates are dependent on factors well out of a seafarer's control, such as weather, mechanical breakdowns, shipping movements, political turmoil, and unfavorable sea state. This is why the MIAS needs to have in built flexibility for seafarers.
Since the MIAS was introduced, many seafarers have been in touch with their local MPs asking for help and advocacy to make changes. Responses from government departments and MPs alike all end with a referral to apply for an emergency allocation in MIQ. The emergency allocation categories are not designed to manage a Seafarers particular circumstances. There is no specific reference to Seafarers in the emergency allocation rules because Seafarers frequently don't meet the very specific criteria, and as such, are often denied an emergency allocation in MIQ. This is partly due to the fact that Seafarers not only require to come home, but also to return to the world outside our borders. To continue to do a job that the rest of the world views as critically essential. The New Zealand government however does not.
On 1 December 2020, the UN General Assembly called for all seafarers to be designated as “key workers”. International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Kitack Lim said "Sadly, hundreds of thousands of seafarers, who are vital to maintaining supply chains, remain stranded at sea for months beyond their contracted time. This is causing immense strain, fatigue and exhaustion and is unsustainable. I hope that this call to action will result in positive momentum to resolve the crew change crisis”.
Despite the call from the UN and the IMO, Minister Chris Hipkins replied to our pleas for help on the 6 April 2021 with “There is no legal requirement for New Zealand to facilitate crew changes outside our territory and we are fulfilling our legal obligation by facilitating movements through New Zealand ports”.
Kiwi Seafarers deserve better from our government. We need access to a separate allocation for MIQ, with more flexible bookings to accommodate the nature and reality of shipping. This will ensure that we can keep essential shipping and trade lines open around the world during this challenging time, and so that Kiwi Seafarers can return home to their families at the end of their contracts. If the government continues to ignore requests for changes, they are putting Seafarers' mental and physical health in jeopardy.
In response to this crisis, we are launching a campaign to educate the public of the plight of our Kiwi Seafarers working internationally.
A video has been released on www.nzseafarers.com to direct people to sign our petition on change.org We aim to take this petition to the government in the hope that they will join the UN and the IMO in recognizing Kiwi Seafarers as essential workers and assist them in continuing to do the critical work they do.
Link to Video: https://vimeo.com/533914260
Link to Website: https://www.nzseafarers.com/
Link to Petition: https://www.change.org/NZseafarers
Link to Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NZSeafarers