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From the News Desk: Critical time for crew changes

Only one third of scheduled crew changes are currently taking place around the world and there is still confusion about when and where they can happen

Governments from around the world have committed to open up borders for seafarers and boost the number of flights to expedite repatriation efforts. But with no formal timelines attached, the political pressure must be sustained before the hundreds of thousands of crew stuck at sea can finally return home

A UK-LED summit on the crew change issue last week (July 9) resulted in 13 out of the 15 governments in attendance saying they would unblock bureaucratic hurdles and cut through coronavirus-related red tape that have left an estimated 300,000 seafarers unable to leave their vessels after their contracts have expired.

The resulting joint ministerial statement detailed a series of pledges aimed at unblocking the current restrictions on seafarer movements.

The measures included: designating seafarers as key workers; accepting seafarers’ ID documents as evidence of their key worker status; implementing the industry approved protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changeover; reviewing national quarantine restrictions; and increasing access, as soon as possible, to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers.

While it is welcome progress, the lack of firm and decisive action comes at a time when only a third of crew changes are actually taking place around the world, raising serious concerns about safety and the continued functioning of global trade, as well as confusion about where and when they can take place is still rife.

According to shipmanager lobby group InterManager, whose members manage 30% of the world’s vessels and provide about 90% of crews, only 30% of necessary crew changes are happening despite the already announced measures to address the crisis and getting crew from supplying nations to fly out to their destination or return to their home country remains challenging.

There is also a disconnect between what government officials are saying and what is occurring at the borders, according to the group.

As Lloyd’s List remarked in a recent opinion piece, the crisis has exposed what little political capital shipowners have when it comes to lobbying governments and how they will have to deviate from their usual path of shunning the limelight and act in concert if they are to apply more pressure on governments.

According to data released by V. Ships, the UK and US have become the top two countries for seafarer embarkation and disembarkation but key crew change hubs such as Singapore and the United Arab Emirates worryingly do not make their top 10, highlighting the extent of the problem.

V.Ships has managed nearly 2,400 crew changes from the US, and another 1,500 from the UK, since the end of March. It has signed on some 5,200 crew and disembarked a further 8,100 worldwide. Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands and China are the next countries where V.Ships has effected the most changeovers.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s role as a crew change hub could be under threat after a surge of local Covid-19 cases prompted officials there to tighten quarantine and travel rules.

On Wednesday last week, the Department of Health said all seafarers arriving via the city’s airport must provide deep throat saliva samples at a swab testing site at the nearby Asia-World Expo.

Seafarers were exempted from quarantine measures in a previous relaxation of policies to facilitate crew rotation at the Asian maritime hub last month. Before now, they were only asked to report their health status before entry.

There was a further tightening of the rules at the end of the week, with seafarers required to take a virus test prior to their departure to Hong Kong.

The new regulation stipulates that the crew must test negative “at his/her last place of embarkation within 48 hours prior to his/her time of departure from the place of embarkation,” according to a notification from the city’s marine department.

An official from the Hong Kong Shipowners’ Association said the government had planned a 24-hour lead time, but then extended it under the strong recommendation of the group to offer more leeway for seafarers and their employers.

To keep up to date with the latest news on the crew change crisis, see our new Hot Topic section here.

Lloyd’s List Awards

Lloyd’s List has set aside its traditional awards portfolio for 2020 in order to recognise the exceptional circumstances in which the maritime industry has found itself as a result of the pandemic.

A revised list of categories and criteria has been created to recognise not only high standards in maritime, but also the resilience and innovation shown by the industry in the face of unprecedented adversity.

One of the new award categories, Provision of Seafarer Wellbeing, recognises the unique hardships endured this year by those who have played an outsized role in the pandemic, keeping global trade lanes moving in the face of sustained physical and mental burdens.

For further information on the revamped awards programme, follow this link.

For entry guidelines, categories and criteria and to submit your entry, follow the link here or in the banner below.

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