Overdue crew levels at record lows as more seafarers are vaccinated
Data from the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator shows 3.7% of seafarers were still working beyond their contracts in the past month, which is the lowest level since the tally was first published in May 2021
Some seafarers remain hesitant about being inoculated while the vaccines are short supplied, or not recognised in certain geographies. And access to the booster jab is already said to have become a new challenge
THE number of vessel crew serving beyond the expiry of their contracts dropped to nine-month lows in December as seafarer vaccination rate continued to improve.
The proportion of overdue crew dropped to 3.7% from 4.7% in the previous month, according to the latest Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator, which tracks data from 10 leading shipmanagers covering about 90,000 seafarers.
It is the lowest level seen since the indicator was first published in May 2021.
A similar trend was seen for those working on board a ship for 11 months without interruption; the share declined to 0.4% from 0.7% in mid-November and is the best performance since July.
“This newest data again shows a reduction that further supports the alleviation of the situation, as observed since September,” said Neptune, adding its data shows a steady increase of seafarers who have been vaccinated over the past six months. The rate rose to 59.8% as of mid-December, from 49.5% the month before.
By comparison, 56.6% of the population in the European Union is fully vaccinated, while in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, UK and the US those rates stand at 63%, 79%, 83%, 71% and 62%, respectively.
There are still difficulties, however, said Neptune. Some seafarers remain hesitant about being inoculated while the vaccines are short supplied, or not recognised in certain geographies. And access to the booster jab is already said to have become a new challenge.
“There are also reports that authorities in certain countries have shortened vaccine validity to six months, causing issues with crew-changes of long-term contracts,” the shipmanagers’ group said, adding that the highly-transmissible Omicron variant has brought renewed headwinds facing crew changeover.
Countries, especially in Asia and Europe, are reimposing restrictions on crew rotations, with flight cancellations rubbing salt into the wound, it said.
“While the data was reported on December 15, as omicron was rapidly spreading, some of its strongest impacts were felt in the second half of December so the full effects of omicron on crew-changes are not yet fully reported.”
The London-based International Transport Workers’ Federation warned that the rising coronavirus infections could lead to a recurrence of the crew-change crisis that hit global shipping in 2020.
“Omicron, like the Delta variant before it, has the potential to return the crew change crisis to its worst levels when more than 400,000 seafarers were trapped working on board vessels, unable to return home, and an equal number unable to take up contracts and relieve those on board,” said federation secretary-general Stephen Cotton.
Kasper Søgaard, managing director of Global Maritime Forum, said the industry must remain cautious until the backdrop changes.“To avoid reigniting the crew-change crisis and reversing these recent positive trends, it is vital that the industry and governments make all efforts to ensure the effect on crew changes of Omicron remain minimal,” he said.