North calls for action plan to deal with crew repatriation crisis

North P&I Club has urged maritime stakeholders to seize the opportunity provided by a UK Government summit on July 9th to establish an international action plan to deal with the crew repatriation crisis that has resulted from Covid-19.

The virtual event is being led by UK Maritime Minister Kelly Tolhurst. It is the first international summit called to address the impact of Covid-19 on crew working conditions and will bring together representatives from the International Maritime Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping, and other associations.

An estimated 200,000 crew have been caught up in delays to crew changes.

North CEO Paul Jennings said that stopgap contract extensions had been further prolonged, with seafarers trapped on board for months in what it described as “a stressful limbo, despite many having had no contact with coronavirus and posing no risk”, adding that “the challenges brought by Covid-19 continue to have a significant impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of crew. Recent weeks have seen welcome action, especially as air routes have opened up, and certainly IG club correspondents have been working tirelessly at the sharp end to get things moving.”

However, he said that this was not simply about logistics and good will, noting that crew changes continued to be hindered by quarantining, visa issues and bureaucracy, and said that only governments had the power to ensure that different authorities acted with common purpose. “It is vital that port authorities and national governments treat seafarers with the fairness and respect they deserve, and this requires an orchestrated response”, said Jennings.

In its own right, the UK Government reckons to have helped more than 7,000 cruise ship crew return home, regardless of nationality or circumstance.

Jennings, who is also the current Chair of the International Group, said that responses to Covid-19 had included a new tracking tool developed by North for the IG, which provided daily updates on the virus and new guidance to crew from all 13 IG clubs on social distancing, as well as ongoing support to all IG Members.

However, Jennings felt that only far-reaching actions such as recognizing seafarers as ‘Key Workers of the Sea’ at a global level could side-step restrictions being re-imposed should there be a future pandemic or a Covid-19 second wave. “We have a shared responsibility to sort this out and ensure that the same circumstances can never be allowed to happen again,” he said