Covid-19 fears result in month’s delay in evacuation of ill seafarer

A 45-year-old seafarer aboard a large cargo ship who began to show signs of suffering a stroke in mid-April has been rescued after a month at sea following intervention from UN agencies, including the IMO.

The seafarer had been reported as seeming confused, with his speech laborious, pain under the left shoulder and his left arm and leg were paralyzed. Global Voyager Assistance, a remote medical assistance provider, confirmed the stroke diagnosis, but the ship was more than 220km from the nearest port, and that port’s authorities rejected initial appeals for emergency medical assistance, citing restrictions in place due to Covid-19.

Despite repeated requests from the vessel’s captain, the seafarer’s national trade union and that of the country the ship was headed for, the ship could not enter port. After several hours of intense discussions, the ship initially received confirmation that the vessel could enter port for the medical transfer to take place. However, that decision was reversed just six hours before the ship was due to arrive, and the captain was advised to set course for another port, in a different country, over 600km away.

The captain insisted and made a further request to obtain medical evacuation for the seafarer, but that second attempt was also rejected by the authorities, including immigration and a local Covid-19 Task Force – again due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was then notified. It called on two UN agencies, the IMO and the ILO, to intervene urgently at government level to ensure international conventions were respected so the seafarer could receive immediate medical attention.

IMO contacted representatives from the national government while ILO offered to prepare an intervention letter. As a result, the medical evacuation was finally authorized, and a police vessel was dispatched to evacuate the seafarer.

The IMO said that it had established an internal team to help resolve individual cases, often working alongside the ILO, ITF and the International Chamber of Shipping.