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Shipping agrees road map to lift crew change barriers

A comprehensive proposal has been developed by a supply chain coalition led by industry and unions in co-operation with United Nations agencies, which sets out how to enable crew changes during the coronavirus pandemic

The plan, which has been issued by the International Maritime Organization, provides a solution for governments around the world to facilitate crew changes during the coronavirus pandemic

SHIPPING has drawn up a 12-point plan to enable crew changes around the world as the coronavirus pandemic forces lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The document sets out the responsibility of governments, shipowners, transport providers and seafarers and provides a framework for procedures that can be adopted worldwide to ensure that trade can keep flowing and seafarers can be relieved, the International Chamber of Shipping said in a statement.  

The 55-page road map covers a range of interested parties, including seafarer unions and international shipping industry associations as well as the insurance sector.

“The problem is simplistic, but the solution is complex,” said ICS secretary-general Guy Platten.

“Seafarers continue to work really hard, day in day out and far away from loved ones, but if we are not able to free our seafarers from their lockdown we could start to see disruption to trade and more importantly we increase the risk of accident and occurrences of mental health issues. Putting this off is no longer an option.”

The International Maritime Organization’s secretary-general Kitack Lim has endorsed the recommendations, which have been just over three weeks in the making.

ICS deputy secretary-general Simon Bennett told Lloyd’s List that in view of the critical urgency, the basic concept was developed in about a week, with a complete draft taking a further seven days. It then took about 10 days to receive final agreement across the entire global industry — overseen by an ICS-led Crew Change Task Force — to accommodate the many different interests of the various sectors.

ICS national associations have been meeting two to three times a week by video, with virtual meetings held with other international shipping associations, the ITF union and IATA, to take the work forward. It also took informal soundings from some IMO member states during the process.

About 150,000 merchant seafarers will need to be changed over in two weeks’ time to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, the ICS said. “Failure to do so risks the well-being of seafarers, maritime safety, as well as the supply chains that the world relies on.” 

Many seafarers have reported feeling “trapped” and exhausted because of working overtime, with stress caused by fear of contracting the virus among reasons why the Seafarers Happiness Index declined in the first quarter of the year from the previous three months.

Repatriation has been the biggest concern for the sector with calls by flag states, unions, shipping associations, charities and non-governmental bodies for governments to deem seafarers key workers exempting them from travel restrictions.

While the protocols have been agreed, they are not obligatory. But it does send a strong message of cross-industry collaboration in this time of urgent need.

Mr Platten of the ICS told Lloyd’s List that governments were starting to listen, to understand, testament to the strength of the protocols, as the travel restrictions caused by the virus were likely to “be around for many more months”.

Already some companies are using them to great effect, he said. It was now a question of working with governments on implementation.

Raising the profile is one thing, but developing solutions that can be applied is another, he said.

“It is unprecedented to develop these protocols and in such detail in such a short space of time,” he added. 

One of the protocols involves health checks at place of residence seven days prior to leaving for a vessel to mitigate any risks. That includes keeping daily temperature records. Other measures include use of protective equipment during transits, having correct documentation, keeping distances from others, and having designated areas at airports.

Templates have been provided for ease of reference.

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