• Seafarers have been stranded at sea for months due to COVID restrictions.
  • Industry calls for 'key worker' status and priority access to vaccines.
  • Hear the podcast: World Vs Virus.

While many lives were severely disrupted by the emergence of COVID-19, spare a thought for the thousands of people working on ships.

These seafarers might be considered hardy types, used to spending weeks at sea and away from home. But when the pandemic hit and countries locked down, they suddenly found they were unable to disembark - and were forced to spend months more on board ships where they may have already been living for half a year.

Shipping publication TradeWinds reported: “No one really knows how many seafarers worldwide have been stuck on their vessels way beyond their contracted time — 400,000?”

The problem still exists and shipping companies and labour unions are calling for seafarers to be given special status as essential workers, to allow them easier travel and priority access to vaccines. Shipping industry leaders set out their case in this open letter.

On this episode of World Vs Virus, the podcast hears from two merchant seafarers - one who spent 10 months at sea and is now finally back home in the Philippines - and another from onboard his container ship as it sails through the Mediterranean towards the Suez Canal. He doesn’t expect to set foot on dry land until March.


Niels Bruus, Head of Marine HR at Maersk, Copenhagen.

Maria Kristina Javellana, ship's captain, Manilla.

Thomas Hvilborg, captain of the Mette Maersk.

Find all our podcasts here.

Join the World Economic Forum Podcast Club on Facebook.