Shipping companies call on coordinated government actions to enable crew changes

Several leading shipping companies have joined together to ask governments worldwide to make interim arrangements for crew changes, which have been halted in many regions because of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The alliance represents 1,500 vessels and 70,000 seafarers. It includes D/S Norden, Grieg Star, Reederei Nord, Dynacom, V.Group, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), Magsaysay, Augustea, Columbia Ship Management, Inchcape Shipping Services and Synergy Group.

The proposals also have the support of the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

The alliance said that there were 100,000 seafarers who were stuck at sea because of a patchwork of coronavirus policies. These have prevented ships’ crews from entering countries, transiting through non-destination countries, or getting flights to take them home. It added that this had implications for seafarers’ health, mental wellbeing, safety and the operational integrity of the supply chain.

Captain Rajesh Unni, head of Synergy Group, said that the group understood that Covid-19 was a black swan event, but said that “measures aimed at protecting society were never intended to prevent key workers from carrying out tasks essential to the ongoing wellbeing of society. These policies were also not intended to be detrimental to the welfare of key workers such as seafarers. Our collective aim as responsible owners and managers employing tens of thousands of seafarers is to pursue every means possible to get crew back to their families.”

The alliance’s members have identified a small number of ports as “hubs” for crew changes (with port state assistance). The proposed ports for these changes include Singapore, Houston, Rotterdam, Gibraltar, Jebel Ali, Fujairah, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The alliance said that collective crew changes could be managed at minimal risk.

Reederei Nord BV managing director Keith Obeyesekera said that governments should recognize seafaring as an essential service and give seafarers special status for travel and visa issuance.

“Currently, in some instances, crew members requiring urgent medical attention have not been allowed ashore, or have not been allowed to sign off in their own home countries,” he said.

The alliance said that “matters such as access to airlines and airports and immigration clearances are political decisions. The shipping industry and seafarers are now relying on the world’s politicians to respect their human rights and protect their welfare in these difficult times. Seafarers are key workers and they should be classified as such and their plight addressed with all expediency.”