COVID-19: Adopt humane approach to crew changes

INTERCARGO, the association of dry cargo shipowners, urges all Port States to adopt a humane and pragmatic approach towards crew changes.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

COVID-19 poses major challenges for seafarers on merchant ships from more restrictions imposed by port states.  For example, on 3 Apr, Japan banned Filipino seafarers from entering the country.  Banning crew changes in ports brings high risks to crews, ships, ports and society.

Without merchant ships and seafarers, cargoes cannot be transported between continents.  Dry bulk carriers remain the workhorses of international shipping, which transports approximately 90 percent of world trade.  Dry bulk carriers transport essential goods such as food and energy, including cereals, grains, agricultural and forest products, as well as iron and other mineral ores, coal and fertilizers.

The world relies on transportation by sea and the dry bulk shipping sector’s services. Seafarers need humane treatment, support and compassion with measured, rather than overzealous, restrictions in relation to COVID-19.  Without efficient crew changes, the supply chain would break down leading to basic product shortages and greater hardships for people around the world.  

Also, it is paramount to consider the mental state of seafarers, who look forward to re-uniting with their families after serving four to nine months on board a ship, as well as the adverse repercussions on the safe navigation and operation of ships.  Though their colleague seafarers are standing by on shore in their home country, the relief process is stalled as many port states have imposed local regulations, travel and quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19.  

This is despite the IMO circulars to be mindful of free access to seafarers.  In many cases, neither the seafarers nor the companies know for how long these may prevail.  INTERCARGO urges IMO Member States and all Port States to adopt a pragmatic approach in assisting shipowners and seafarers to overcome these challenges by removing undue hinderance for seafarers to leave or join a ship in their ports.

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