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“I have seen grown men cry,” said Captain Tejinder Singh, who has not set foot on dry land for more than seven months and does not know when he will return home.
IIt’s a critical situation for tens of thousands of sailors like him, stranded at sea as the delta variant wreaks havoc on the shore.
“People don’t know how their supermarkets are supplied,” he says.
Captain Singh and his 20 crew members are among some 100,000 sailors stranded at sea beyond their usual 3 to 9 month periods, according to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS); a lot without even a day off ashore. 100,000 more are stranded ashore, unable to board the ships they need to earn a living.
The devastating delta variant of parts of Asia – home to many of the world’s 1.7 million commercial sailors – has prompted many countries to cut off access to land to visiting crews, in some cases even for a medical treatment.
Only 2.5% of seafarers have been vaccinated.
The United Nations is describing the situation as a humanitarian crisis at sea and says governments should classify seafarers as essential workers.
With ships carrying around 90% of global trade, the deepening crisis also poses a major threat to the supply chains we rely on for everything from oil and iron to food and electronic.