Coronavirus strands merchant ship crews at sea for months

A cargo ship approaches the port of Piraeus as other ships are anchored, near Athens, Greece, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. During the new coronavirus pandemic, about 150,000 seafarers are stranded at sea in need of crew changes, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. Roughly another 150,000 are stuck on shore, waiting to get back to work. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - For nearly four months, Capt. Andrei Kogankov and his oil tanker crew haven't set foot on dry land. With global travel at a virtual standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian captain was forced to extend his normal contract. He still doesn't know when he'll be able to go home.

Countries across the world have imposed lockdowns, shut borders and suspended international flights to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. The move was deemed essential to prevent rampaging contagion, but merchant ship crews have become unintended collateral damage.

With more than 80% of global trade by volume transported by sea, the world's more than 2 million merchant seafarers play a vital role.

"In some ways, they've been the forgotten army of people," said Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS.