It would be wiser to extend the contracts of crew and leave them on board than it would to risk them contracting coronavirus during changeovers, according to Henrik Jensen, managing director of Danica Crewing Services.
Jensen said that ship operators needed to exercise caution when making crew changeovers and warned that crew faced a bigger risk of catching the virus while they travelled to and from postings using public transport networks, than they did on the ship.
He also noted that merchant vessels were ill-equipped to care for seriously ill seafarers. He said that he understood why the ITF, ICS and others had argued that seafarers should continue to travel to and from vessels for regular crew changeovers. “However, with a potential 100,000 seafarers transiting each month, I do not believe this is the best approach at this present time”, he said adding that “some vessel operators think it is stressful for crew to stay onboard for longer and better for them to go home – I disagree. That may well be the case for crew who have completed postings of more than nine months, such as many Filipino ratings do. However, for those with contract lengths of four to seven months, or less, I think it is not a problem to stay longer, rather than risk becoming infected as they transit home, or to jeopardize the health of those remaining by potentially bringing infected seafarers on to the vessel in replacement”.
The MLC allows a maximum term of 12 months at sea.
He warned that no commercial vessels were equipped to deal with a crew member who fell seriously ill from Covid-19, who might be in need of ventilation and intensive care. Help could be very far away if the vessel was on a long voyage – and even might not be readily available in port. Jensen also warned that, if the virus came onboard then it would almost certainly affect several people, if not the entire crew. “Will the ship then be able to operate in a safe way? How can vessel operators provide medical care to an entire crew far out at sea?” he asked
While halting crew changes was inconvenient and potentially stressful for the individual seafarer, it was, said Jensen, the least worst solution.
“Owners need to bear in mind that some seafarers may start to suffer from fatigue and that it might be necessary to adjust the crew’s workload where possible,” he said.
Owners would also need to prepare for the unfortunate – but inevitable – situation where relatives of some of the onboard seafarers would become ill or even die. It would not be possible to repatriate the seafarer as normally would be done.