Seafarers are to be given the same consideration as frontline health workers under a new government initiative to support crew onboard tankers in the UAE.
The importance of the role played by commercial sailors during the global pandemic is to be recognised in the Supporting our Blue Army scheme.
This is intended to improve the quality of life of thousands of international crew who pass through the UAE each year, said officials.
The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, which took over regulating shipping operations from the Federal Transport Authority last year, said improving welfare will have an impact in countries with trade links dependent on the shipping industry.
“When talking about the maritime transport sector, the UAE is a unique model,” Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Suhail Al Mazrouei said.
“We’ve launched the Supporting our Blue Army initiative to be one of the first countries to recognise and appreciate marine crews.
“It will put them on an equal footing with priority categories, such as medical personnel, especially in such circumstances where seafarers played a key role in mitigating the devastating effects on the global economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The plight of some seafarers made international headlines in January when the tanker MT Iba ran aground at Umm Al Quwain, after it broke free of its anchorage in rough seas, three miles off the coast of Ajman.
The five crew members had spent 43 months at sea – including 32 months without pay – after the tanker's owner fell into a financial crisis.
They have since returned home to India, Pakistan and Myanmar, after a campaign was launched by shipping charities and their outstanding wages were settled.
The UAE is a logistics hub linking global shipping lines and has the major share of the ships that call on the region’s ports, with more than 21,000 vessels every year.
More than 20,000 local and international maritime companies operate in the UAE with some 17 million containers are handled in the UAE ports annually.
A recent report by The Mission to Seafarers charity, which represents ship crews worldwide, found life on board tankers was becoming harder to endure.
Delayed shore leave due to enforced travel restrictions, financial hardship, abandonment and the threat of hijack or conflict at sea had placed sailors under increasing pressure.
A new Cabinet resolution regarding marine wrecks and violating ships pledged to improve life at sea when seafarers pass through the UAE.
It obliges all UAE-flagged ships and foreign-flagged ships in UAE waters or ports to guarantee the rights of seafarers and fulfil their needs.
An agreement has also been signed with the International Transport Workers' Federation to enhance co-operation in supporting sailors.
This provides material and moral support to seafarers in the UAE – including free medical treatment and Covid-19 vaccines and allowing crew replacements when required.
More than 214,000 seafarers confined to their ships were assisted in the replacement process and returned to their home countries during the pandemic.
“We are confident that this initiative will have a global impact, as thousands of seafarers who come to the UAE will benefit from it,” said Sheikh Nasser Majid Al Qasimi, assistant undersecretary for the Infrastructure and Transport Sector at the ministry.
“The UAE will be the international benchmark for ensuring the welfare of seafarers and their rights.
“Ships that violate the rights of seafarers will not be able to enter the UAE waters, and therefore will not be part of the regional trade centre and the global supply chain and logistics services.”