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Charterers lambasted for indifference to crews’ plight

Spotlight on charterers as Safe Bulkers chief Polys Hajioannou accuses even major shipping users of obstruction and hypocrisy

Hajioannou is one of the first major shipowners to publicly call out charterers for being part of the problem rather than the solution

CHARTERERS have been accused of  turning a blind eye to the suffering of crew as the shipping industry continues to wrestle with the puzzle of enacting long overdue crew changes.

Safe Bulkers chief executive Polys Hajioannou is one of the first major shipowners to publicly call out charterers for being part of the problem rather than the solution as seafarers continue to be trapped on board their ships amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He said companies faced “a lot of hassle and a lot of problems” from charterers when wanting to make even small deviations from scheduled routes when precious opportunities to effect crew changes arose.

This was the case even when deviations would be undertaken solely at the owner’s cost.

“I’m very disappointed to say that owners are not having the support of charterers when it comes to social responsibility into the wellbeing of seafarers,” Cyprus-based Mr Hajioannou said on an earnings call this week.

“We have to face all the cost ourselves, which is the least of it. Here, we have lack of co-operation from many charterers, including major ones, when there is a need to make a small deviation from the intended route in order to disembark our crew and put on board a fresh crew.”

Mr Hajioannou, who was referring to “even big names, big charterers, that should have supported such small deviations”, said there were only few exceptions.

“I have seen only two or three charterers really understanding the problem and co-operating,” he said. “Good names like Cargill or Bunge, they are doing their best to assist. But there are some other names that we are really disappointed in.”

He also accused the industry of being two-faced over a humanitarian and responsibility issue that he called “a time bomb” for the shipping industry.

He noted that major charterers often portrayed themselves as being socially responsible and caring for the wellbeing of crews and others in the transportation chain.

“These principles that they state in their brochures and in their code of ethics — they don't pass [them] on to their chartering departments who are resisting whenever an owner is asking to make a small deviation for crew changes. I think there is a lot of hypocrisy in the market,” he said.

“This is the biggest problem of the shipping industry for the next six to 12 months,’ he said. “We all have to face our social responsibilities, not only the owner himself - he can't do it [alone]. We need the co-operation of all the parties, the cargo owners, the charterers, everyone.”

US-listed Safe Bulkers owns a fleet of 42 bulkers and Mr Hajioannou also has a smaller family dry bulk operation.

Since the pandemic broke out and emerged as a massive crisis for companies and their crews, owners have been reticent about pointing the finger at charterers or identifying the trend as widespread. But patience among owners and managers appears to be running out.

Recently, senior management in the Greece-based Tsakos Group, a major tanker owner, raised concerns to Lloyd’s List about the stance of charterers in the tanker market, too.

“Charterers have not shown sensitivity,” said one executive. “There has been no flexibility.”

Last week speakers in a Capital Link webinar devoted to the industry’s crewing challenge agreed that charterers among other stakeholders should pull their weight.

“Charterers have a very real role in helping to facilitate this,” said International Chamber of Shipping general secretary Guy Platten. “Some charterers are starting to step up to the plate, but we need everyone to understand that there is only going to be a solution by the industry working together.''

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