ICS says a failure to follow protocols would undermine crew change efforts

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has said that recent failures to comply with crew change and health guidelines were putting under threat the hard-won accommodations from countries around the world.

ICS noted the instances in Singapore and Hong Kong, which had relaxed their restrictions but were now retightening rules for seafarers wanting to embark or disembark.

It said that, with new cases of Covid-19 emerging and uncertainty of the level of compliance with local protocols, and even possibly cases of outright deception, countries were again looking at tightening their restrictions on crew changes.

Singapore announced last week that it was tightening its rules on crew changes occurring at its port after widespread reports of abuses and even possible tampering of test results. The Maritime and Port Authority released new protocols saying, “with immediate effect, MPA will give priority to applications from Singapore-registered ships and applications for sign-off crew only,” while saying it would consider cases where seafarers were beyond their contracts without an extension from the port state or in cases of compassionate leave or being medically unfit.

Signing-on crew need to self-isolate for the 14-days before departing for Singapore, and shipowners, managers, and agents must ensure accurate Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. Seafarers must transfer directly to the ship upon arrival in Singapore.

In Hong Kong there have also been expressions of concern at the increase in cases and the potential need for stricter regulations or possibly suspending crew changes entirely.

In late June nine seafarers flew into Hong Kong and stayed in local hotels before they boarded the MSC Flavia (IMO 9467433) as part of a crew change (IMN July 6th 2020). By the time the vessel arrived in China, 11 crew members had tested positive, including several of the seafarers who had boarded the ship in Hong Kong. Chinese health officials said they believed the individuals had been asymptomatic when they arrived in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong later tightened the restrictions on arriving crew members.

They now need to test negative and travel directly between their vessels and the airport. There have been reports that crew members tested positive on at least six ships arriving in Hong Kong in recent days.

The ICS has therefore issued a new call urging everyone involved in the shipping industry to adhere strictly to the recently developed crew change protocols.

Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General, said that “we must remember that the vast majority of shipowners are going to extraordinary lengths to safely repatriate crew and return them home to their families. Acts that are only made possible by governments adopting the crew change protocols. We must stand firm as an industry and work together to ensure we maintain the highest standards possible. Continuing on the positive momentum gained over recent weeks to ensure that we get back to 100% crew change.”

The ICS said that it was clear that some seafarers and crew and manning companies were not taking seriously the protocol of self-imposed isolation that countries have mandated, as well as other rules designed to implement crew changes as well as maintain the safety of the citizens.

“The industry cannot afford to lose the faith and support of governments. The irresponsible actions of a small minority could potentially lead to the shutdown of crew change processes at important shipping hubs, impacting the vast majority of seafarers and shipowners who are acting in accordance with the protocols”, the ICS said.