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23 December 2020

Nautilus International's emergency 24/7 helpline service has seen a huge increase in calls to its helpline during 2020 reflecting the crew change crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nautilus 24/7 helpline's casework rose 70% on the previous year to 540 from 316 bringing a total of nearly 2072 cases (Helpline stats) for 2020. The helpline is administered by the International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN).

New cases clearly spiked in March soon after the epidemic began, with 129 new cases in that month alone, compared to the usual monthly average of about 30 new cases a month, bringing the total then to 421 cases. By the end of November there were a total of 762 new cases in 2020 (info from helpline direct as their figures go to 22 Dec), with a corresponding big caseload workload increase to the Union's industrial organisers.

By 22 December, some 1992 individual seafarers were helped overall in 2020 (wait to add final Dec figures) as some cases can involve several crew on board. Each year the multilingual helpline team handles emergency calls from the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland and members of a number of unions affiliated to the Nautilus Federation.

The service also took calls from concerned cruise staff wanting to know their rights as cruiseships ceased to operate in early March as the cruise industry virtually shut down, including one member onboard a Bermuda flagged ship in the UK, due to have five or six more officers join the existing 1200 other seafarers onboard in April, where 70 were self-isolating with flu-like symptoms. The case was referred to the industrial team.

In 2020 calls about repatriation, unfair dismissal and unpaid wages were consistently more highly reported than in previous years, reflecting both the crew change crisis and maritime companies' response to the financial impact of the pandemic.

Contact can be made via direct emails, live chat messages, Skype, SMS text message or freephone numbers for more than 45 countries. Live chat proved the most popular and efficient way of communicating quickly in a pandemic, over even free toll calls - zooming from about 19 a month at the beginning of the year, to more than 65 and 67 in March and April, with the total livechat calls approaching 400 by the end of the year.

Contractual disputes and cases of unfair dismissal are referred immediately to Nautilus investigators. Nautilus ITF inspectors are alerted in cases related to foreign flagged ship detentions or poor living conditions of ships visiting UK ports.

Since January 2020 the helpline team has received 842 contacts, X (?) the normal monthly number.

Live chat proved the most popular and efficient way of communicating quickly in a pandemic Helpline

Health and safety concerns over sick crew onboard, picking up passengers from countries with Covid-19 hotspots, crew members under quarantine and the overall impact on ships' operation accounted for many of the calls early on in the pandemic. As the year ended there were increased calls to do with concerns over physical health, fatigue and mental health.

Members are referred by the helpline to the relevant industrial teams for urgent matters to do with their particular circumstances.

Nautilus members who are experiencing difficulties related to the coronavirus outbreak are advised to contact their industrial organiser for assistance. In an emergency members can also contact the Nautilus 24/7 helpline.