Drastic measures needed now for crew change

According to INTERCARGO, the delay in crew change resulting in crew remaining on board for 12 to 17 months, is compromising the safety of crew, ships, and cargoes.  About 300,000 seafarers remain trapped on board their ships and a similar number are awaiting re-employment with financial hardship.  

Despite a universal campaign from all sectors of the shipping industry, INTERCARGO says that hundreds of thousands of seafarers still continue serving after completing their Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA), and that many of them have now spent well over 12 months on board. 

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that bulk carriers on tramp trading call at many more ports than other shipping sectors do, piling added strain on an already fatigued workforce with no hope of crew change.

“Very soon the industry is going to have to say enough is enough,” says Dimitris Fafalios, Chairman of INTERCARGO. “The situation is reaching farcical proportions. We have seen crew changes refused because a COVID test could not be carried out within the prescribed 48-hour window before the crew’s arrival, despite the journey to the port taking three days. 

“In some other countries which claim to allow crew change, in fact this happens only if crew can be replaced with the country’s nationals. These are just some examples.”

The two key bottlenecks are the airlines unwillingness to make flights available between shipping destinations and crew source countries and the lack of commitment from Health & Immigration Authorities to facilitate seafarers’ travelling and issuance of visas.

Jay K. Pillai, Vice-Chairman of INTERCARGO, said: “The situation is escalating from bad to worse as the United Nations IMO protocols for Key Workers are not being honored by all Port States. About 35 to 40% of all seafarers on board cargo ships are serving well over their SEA and about 10% of all seafarers on board are serving between 12 to 17 months. This is inhumane and countries should bear full responsibility for it. 

“Some Governments are not facilitating the crew change even for their own citizens. This includes imposing all possible restrictions on crew change in their home country, restricting flights and applying policies which do not allow seafarers to fly to foreign countries to join ships. 

“It’s a sad story and it can’t continue like this unless Port States who export/import cargoes ensure that ships will not depart with seafarers serving over the MLC limit. More and more countries are prohibiting crew change, though they welcome the cargoes the ships bring to support the welfare of their society.”

Spyros Tarasis, Vice-Chairman of INTERCARGO sums up, saying: “This has become a talking shop. Everybody knows where the problems lie – with the airlines, with visas and with health authorities not recognizing seafarers as key workers. But nothing is being done, and very soon the shipping industry itself may well be obliged/forced to stop the trading of cargoes essential for welfare and sustaining the smooth running of societies worldwide.”

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