Seafarers are frontliners too

Photo: Bernama

DURING these trying times under the movement control order (MCO) imposed to combat the Covid-19 threat, healthcare workers and those ensuring adherence to the MCO have been recognised as “frontliners” for the yeomen deeds they perform.

Most Malaysians accept this, and many do what they can to help facilitate the availability of personal protective equipment and meals that the frontliners need.

Syabas and well done!

I wish to highlight the existence of another group of frontliners that many Malaysians may be unaware of: Seafarers who serve on board merchant vessels carrying food, fuel and facilities that we all need to survive in these testing circumstances and even during normal days. They serve away from their families in an environment open to the vagaries of weather and seas, day in and day out, and they do so professionally so you and I will have our supply of daily necessities and items of additional comfort.

Initially, during the first few days of the MCO period, these seafarers were unable to leave their vessels at the end of their contractual duration of service nor were fresh crew allowed to replace them. This was due in large part to the lack of a standard operating procedure (SOP) addressing the situation.

Two critical issues loomed: Those seafarers on board and due to leave the vessel, a procedure termed “signing off”, were under severe mental stress, worried about how their families at home were coping with life under the MCO. The other group ashore planning to join ships, termed “signing on”, had exhausted their funds and needed to commence earning a wage to sustain their families. Unless they can sign on, they have virtually nil income, since employment for most seafarers infers they only get paid while serving on board a ship and not when they are ashore on leave.

Desperate appeals were made by shipowners’ associations, seafarers’ organisations and concerned individuals pleading with relevant authorities to consider drafting SOPs that would allow these unrecognised frontliners to be taken off ships and replaced by waiting crew.

Much to the credit of the ministries and agencies involved, a set of procedures was crafted within a few days to enable such movements.

With the circulation of procedures by the Marine Department Malaysia explaining how the signing off and signing on procedures need to be undertaken, seafarers heaved a sigh of relief.

Though there appeared to be some snags in some locations in the early stages, especially in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan, matters appear to be smoother now.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the National Security Council, Transport Ministry, Marine Department, Immigration Department and, of course, the Health Ministry, as well as ship owners and other entities for being willing to go out of their way to assist in ameliorating the issue.

It is not often that these normally unrecognised seafarers are given the recognition they truly deserve based on the enormous contribution they make towards ensuring the supply of goods for the well being of fellow Malaysians in general. They are frontliners too.


Shah Alam

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letters , merchant marine , MCO


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