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Crew crisis needs ‘substantial solution’

Crew changes now if the world wants shipping to continue playing its vital role during pandemic, says Greek owners’ leader

Governments should intervene, says Union of Greek Shipowners president

CREW changes should return to normal as a matter of urgency if economies are to recover from the impact of coronavirus, according to Theodore Veniamis.

The president of the Union of Greek Shipowners said that the industry’s uninterrupted operation was “of vital importance” as the pandemic continued to spread internationally.

“In order for shipping to fulfill its role, shipping companies must be able to safely and efficiently man their ships and make the necessary crew changes,” he said.

Mr Veniamis, who heads the world’s largest national shipowners’ association representing about 20% of global tonnage, was speaking after last week’s 13-nation declaration on tackling the crisis.

Despite the efforts of international shipping organisations and of “many maritime countries”, crew changes have so far been widely blocked because of restrictions put in place around the world.

The Union of Greek Shipowners welcomed the declaration by a number of countries, including Greece, that emerged from the UK-hosted summit on tackling the crew change crisis.

This “emphatically recognises the need for a substantial solution to the problem”, Mr Veniamis said.

“Our seafarers, the soul of our ships, have stood like true heroes of the sea during this difficult and unprecedented period,” he said.

The union had been urging action from the start as well as calling for seafarers to be designated essential workers to facilitate embarkation and disembarkation.

“Now is the time for governments to intervene, so that seafarers can return home safely, and others to assume their duties and to continue their great work.”

According to the International Maritime Organization, over 200,000 seafarers are still waiting to be repatriated after many months at sea, having stayed on board beyond their original contracts.

The joint statement committing to increase efforts to get crew changes done and repatriate seafarers was signed by representatives from Denmark, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, the UK  and the US.

Industry leaders have been wary about pointing the finger of blame openly at individual countries, partly because many are seen to be unhelpful and due to the need for diplomacy.

However, in private, the frustration of shipping bodies is close to spilling over.

The head of one international shipping organisation told Lloyd’s List recently that the Far East, which is a major focus of shipping activity, had been particularly unresponsive to industry pleas.

“It is very frustrating,” he said. “There are some exceptions. It’s probably best not to name individual countries. But there are a lot of places that want the cargo we carry but not our crew.”

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