By Keith Norbury

The Prince Rupert Port Authority has been giving visiting seafarers a much-needed break during the pandemic.

This summer the port outfitted the Northland cruise ship terminal with tents, a grill, food, and other supplies so that crews could safely enjoy barbecues and connect with loved ones via wifi set up at the site.

“We had them onshore, we fired up the barbecues, and there were some soccer games that broke out,” said Shaun Stevenson, president and chief executive officer of the Prince Rupert Port Authority. “And it was good.”

The pandemic has created a major crisis around the world of countries refusing to let ships’ crews ashore or even to conduct crew exchanges, Mr. Stevenson said.

“Often crew members have been at sea for months,” he said. “So we worked closely with Transport Canada, and the Chamber of Shipping here in B.C. to do something maybe you can’t do in a larger centre.”

The initiative implemented social distancing and other protocols to enable the port to comply with Transport Canada regulations that limited shore leave for crews aboard foreign vessels only for medical, family, and personal emergencies, or other essential purposes. Some crew members had not been ashore for months.

“We had an area cordoned off near our cruise ship terminal that made sure they were safe and we were safe,” Mr. Stevenson said. “The reality is the ships coming into Prince Rupert, especially from Asia, will have already gone through a 10- to 14 day self quarantine anyways, by nature of the transit. It’s different I think if you’re working in other areas or other ports where you have ships coming in from closer proximities.”

The United Nations International Maritime Organization reported that some seafarers have been marooned at sea for up to 15 months, since long before the pandemic, which has only added to the strain for workers who transport four fifths of the world’s goods. In recognition of the pandemic’s impact, the Prince Rupert Port Authority signed the Port Authorities Roundtable Declaration on COVID-19, which seeks to aid seafarers while also maintaining the federal guidelines.

“Throughout the pandemic, seafarers have played a vital role in supporting trade for Canada but were unable to return to their homes and communities because of global restrictions on travel,” Chamber of Shipping President Robert Lewis-Manning said on June 25, the International Day of the Seafarer. “The efforts of the Prince Rupert Port Authority to provide short opportunities for seafarers to have a break off their ships while adhering to public health regulations is important and appreciated. Seafarers urgently need governments around the world to support the free movement of seafarers so that crew changes can resume. The health of seafarers must be addressed before it becomes a crisis and it is hoped that Canada takes a leadership role in facilitating dialogue globally.”

Mr. Stevenson said the port authority was also mindful of the anxiety in the Prince Rupert community of ships arriving during the pandemic.

“Ironically, the ships were more anxious about coming ashore than probably the community was about having them, at the end of the day,” Mr. Stevenson said.