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'A huge responsibility' How Cargill is helping seafarers navigate the rough waters of COVID-19.

Read Time: 3 minutes

February 01, 2022

Fact #1: Ships transport about 90% of world trade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

Fact #2: Seafarers on ships around the world have not been deemed essential workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been stranded on their ships beyond their original contracts, increasing the risk of injury and physical and mental exhaustion, according to ICS.

Fact #3: Cargill’s fleet of about 720 ships are chartered, meaning the roughly 15,000 seafarers on board are employed by other companies.

Add these facts up and we’re left with a question: What can — and what should — Cargill do about seafarers stranded on its chartered ships?

“The easy thing is to sit back and say it’s the owners’ problem,” says Cargill Ocean Transportation (OT) leader, Jan Dieleman.

But for Cargill, the easy thing isn’t necessarily the right thing. Instead, guided by our Code of Conduct, the business has stepped forward as a leader in doing the right thing and influencing others to follow.

“We have shown we can use our voice, our leadership, to move these standards forward and improve situations for seafarers around the world.” – Jan Dieleman

many ships

Declarations and decisions

One of the first and biggest steps OT took was to start consistently tracking how long crews had been on board the ships it charters — and not using ships with crews that should have been switched out. (Marine convention stipulates crews shouldn’t be on ships more than 11 months.) That has helped bring down the number of overextended crews on Cargill-chartered ships, says OT global operations leader Eman Abdalla, and making sure Cargill isn’t entering contracts that don’t allow owners to repatriate the crew.

Last year, a Cargill-chartered ship with a crew from India was being held in another country. With the ship owner unwilling to pay the extra cost to change the overextended crew, Cargill explored all the options and made a values-based decision.

“We looked and said, ‘This is just wrong. If there is no other solution, we’ll pay the bill; let’s get these people home,’” Jan says.

Another specific change Cargill has made is to ensure ship owners offer full internet accessibility for their crew if they’re contracting with us for more than a year.

“Especially in today’s age, we consider this a basic need,” Jan says. “We’ve gotten some pushback here and there, but our push has helped ensure it’s becoming the standard.”

Cargill is also among the founding signatories of the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, which called for industry peers and governments to address the growing crisis.

a seafarer

Transparency leading ethics

Our engagement goes back even further. A decade ago, Cargill committed to Right Ship, a maritime organization that focuses on minimum safety standards on board vessels. Cargill has helped lead efforts across that coalition — as well as with the Global Maritime Forum that created the Neptune Declaration — to advocate more broadly for policies that protect seafarers’ physical and mental wellbeing.

“We’re trying to do these things not as just Cargill, but in getting industry participants to be vocal about it,” Jan says.

Throughout all these areas, Cargill has taken steps to ensure visibility into what’s happening on ships — and using it to ensure we can lead ethically.

“These people are moving our goods,” Jan says. “We have a huge responsibility toward them.’”