“Hub” airports could facilitate changes of shipping crew

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) are working together in an attempt to persuade countries to designate “a specific and limited number” of airports that could move and repatriate seafarers to and from their home countries at the beginning and end of their stints on merchant ships and cruise vessels.

The industries’ lobby groups are emphasizing that crew changes would be necessary to keep supply chains operating and that the seafarers should be designated essential workers, on a global basis.

IATA director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said that “airlines have been required to cut passenger services in the fight to stop the spread of coronavirus. But if governments identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols, airlines can help keep global logistics moving”.

About 100,000 seafarers are estimated to need to change shifts every month. The surge in travel restrictions, which have been implemented in an ad hoc fashion on a country-by-country basis, have been preventing crew changes and repatriations, forcing seafarers to extend their time on vessels.

The ICS said that “this cannot go on indefinitely. Work at sea is dangerous and tiring. The risk of accidents and disasters is exponentially increasing as each day passes. Entire supply chains may falter. This is a daunting scenario for an already fragile and stretched global economy”.

 an ICS spokesperson said.

ICS and IATA are arguing that selecting airports dedicated to crew changes would help keep supply chains running. “Priority airports should include those close to major shipping lanes which also have direct air connections to principal seafarer countries of residence, such as China, India and the Philippines as well as destinations in western and eastern Europe,” they said.

ICS and IATA said that aviation and shipping companies faced common challenges in carrying out crew changes, while complying with immigration and quarantine restrictions. They said that they were collaborating with the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organisation to develop standardized procedures and protocols for positioning crews ahead of transportation.