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Hong Kong halts crew changes for non-cargo operation vessels

Testing and virus prevention arrangements for crew rotations on ships coming to the city for cargo operations will be tightened. The Hong Kong Shipowners Association also advises the government to only allow the activities for locally registered ships

Retightening of crew change policies comes after mounting public pressure on the government to enhance its border control measures in response to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the city

HONG KONG has decided to suspend crew changes for vessels without cargo operation, as the city tightens its quarantine measures for arriving seafarers amid soaring local coronavirus infections.

The move represents a setback to the previous relaxation in early June, when crew of cargo ships calling for other purposes — such as bunkering, supplies, sale and purchase delivery, repairs, docking and surveys — were largely exempted from the quarantine requirements.

The suspension will take effect from July 29, according to a government statement.

Crew rotation for cargo-operation ships is still permitted, although testing and other virus prevention arrangements for those seafarers will become stricter.

“We believe that after tightening the relevant conditions, public concerns about the public health risks can be suitably addressed,” said a government official.

The easing of crew change restrictions earlier was blamed for contributing to the fresh outbreak of the coronavirus in Hong Kong since the second week of July. The city has reported more than 100 daily new infection cases for five consecutive days, with 128 cases confirmed on Sunday.

The government announcement comes after the Hong Kong Shipowners Association and the Hong Kong Seamen’s Union both said on Saturday that they had advised the government to further tighten crew change policies.

Measures suggested by HKSOA included only allowing Hong Kong-flagged ships and ships of locally registered companies to perform the activities in the next two weeks, and imposing penalties on any parties found to be in breach of the relevant laws.

“We hope that the government will take our advice,” said the association’s chairman Bjorn Hojgaard in a press release. “The coronavirus pandemic impacts us all. Nobody can tell how this will play out eventually, but one thing is certain — we need many ‘key workers’, including seafarers, to help us win this battle.”

HKSOA, alongside the Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association, had last week already recommended that their members suspend crew changeover in the Asian maritime hub for three weeks.

“Our union considers that it is reasonable to allow crew changes in Hong Kong, which is also the right of seafarers,” said the HKSU. “But at the same time, in order to reduce the concern of the local community on the impact of crew changes in Hong Kong during Covid-19, our union believes that it is necessary that the government further tighten the relevant quarantine measures, so as to ensure that the safety of crew changes in Hong Kong and reduce direct contact with the local community.”

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