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  • Implications of visa restrictions imposed on Russian seafarers to be tangible in six to twelve months — SUR
  • 2022 September 19 18:20

    Implications of visa restrictions imposed on Russian seafarers to be tangible in six to twelve months — SUR

    Russian seafarers account for about 10.5% of the total number of merchant seamen worldwide

    Despite the sanctions, Russian sailors are still in demand by European shipowners. As of today, about 30,000 Russian seafarers sail on the European shipping companies’ ships and contribute to smooth functioning of supply chains. However, the situation may change drastically if visa restrictions imposed by the European Union on Russian citizens in mid-September 2022 are applied to Russian seafarers. The issue was raised by Yury Sukhorukov, head of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR), when speaking at a meeting of the maritime transport section of the European Transport Workers' Federation (MTS ETF). According to the speaker, the implications will be tangible in a half of a year - a year, says the Seafarers’ Union of Russia.

    “The Schengen visas obtained by Russian seafarers legislation them move freely between most EU countries for the purpose of crew change in European ports. However, amid the restrictions on the entry of Russian citizens into Europe the problems with crew changes will become inevitable when visas expire. We will see tangible implications in a half of a year, maximum one year,” Yury Sukhorukov warned adding that European politicians made some exceptions for transport workers’ Schengen visas. However, they did not include merchant seamen in this list for unclear reasons. “We should give them a clear message: if you want to preserve the time-proved supply chains and to continue uninterrupted shipping of goods by sea, lift the restrictions imposed on seafarers. Both seafarers and residents of your countries will be thankful for that,” said Yury Sukhorukov.

    According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Russian seafarers account for about 10.5% of the total number of merchant seamen worldwide, Ukrainian seafarers – for more than 4%. They a primarily highly qualified officers with an excellent level of professional training. All of them are now facing great difficulties in their work which has been recently confirmed by Susana Ventura, head of Ver.di, United Services Union, Germany.

    Seafarers’ unions agree that it is unacceptable to create additional obstacles to the recruitment of professional seafarers amid the growing shortage of personnel. According to the findings under the SkillSea project, the number of officers increased by 25% between 2010 and 2015 and by only 11% between 2015 and 2021. The experts forecast the situation get worse in the future.

    The sanctions also entailed problems with paying dollar or euro wages to seafarers. Foreign companies used to work with foreign currency accounts opened in domestic banks, many of which are now covered by sanctions. Thus, foreign shipowners’ ability to transfer salaries through Russian banks is limited. Seafarers can get wages in cash on ships but it is impossible to move large amounts across the border when returning home, particularly for safety reasons.

    “Our European partners are clearly aware of no ways to replace Russian seafarers engaged in transportation of cargoes and goods ensuring normal functioning of the European Union,” said Yury Sukhorukov. - Therefore, it is necessary to ensure seafarers’ free border crossing within the European Union and to facilitate the process of obtaining Schengen visas. We also call on guaranteed transfer of salaries to seafarers' accounts in several Russian banks defined by the European Commission on its own.

    That is why the experts decided to act proactively, without waiting for the situation to escalate. The issues raised by the head of SUR were discussed at the meeting of the ad hoc sectoral committee comprising representatives of ETF and European shipping companies in the name of the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA).

    The meeting participants supported Russia’s fair claim: the co-heads of the committee, Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of Nautilus International, and Tim Springett, Policy Director (Employment and Legal) at UK Chamber of Shipping, will submit a joint appeal to the European Commission and the European Parliament with a proposal to grant Russian seafarers the right of obtaining Schengen visas for normal crew changes in European ports. The ETF promised to keep the process under control.

    It was the first meeting of MTS ETF in the current reporting period. It featured representatives of ad hoc trade unions from Russia, Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Italy, Germany, France Croatia, etc. At the ETF congress held in May, SUR Chairman Yury Sukhorukov was elected Deputy Chairman of MTS ETF.

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