The International Maritime Organization (IMO), maritime industry and unions have set out a 12-step solution for governments to facilitate crew change and free seafarers from the COVID-19 lockdown. Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports
To assist governments to put in place coordinated procedures to facilitate the safe movement of seafarers, the IMO issued a 12-step plan to 174 member states, providing them with a roadmap to free seafarers from their COVID-19 lockdown and allow appropriate exemptions for them to join or leave ships.
At their heart is a call that, provided shipping companies broadly comply with and adhere to measures applicable to them, governments and their relevant national authorities should, for their part, do everything possible to allow crew changes to happen. IMO Secretary-General Lim said he supports these protocols and urges their implementation.
The protocols clearly set out the responsibility of governments, shipowners, transport providers and seafarers. The protocols also provide a framework to develop robust procedures that can be adopted worldwide to ensure that trade can keep flowing and seafarers can be relieved.
In two weeks’, time, approximately 150,000 merchant seafarers will need to be changed over to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, with tens of thousands currently trapped onboard ships across the globe due to the continuing imposition of travel restrictions. Failure to do so risks the wellbeing of seafarers, maritime safety, as well as the supply chains that the world relies on.
Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said the industry is working with political leaders so that they can steer a steady course and allow safe crew changes to take place. He warned that if seafarers are not free from lockdown, there is a possibility of disruption to trade and risk of accidents and occurrences of mental health issues. He added that putting off crew change is no longer an option.
“The problem is simplistic, but the solution is complex. So, we have stepped up and done the homework and developed the protocols. We are now working with governments to implement this roadmap.
This critical issue is increasingly taking on a humanitarian dimension for those crews which have already spent many months at sea, and which urgently need to be repatriated to their home countries and to be replaced.
Apart from the need for shipping companies to comply with international regulations and contractual obligations, service periods on board ships cannot be extended indefinitely due to the dangerous impacts this has for the health and well-being of ship crew and, most importantly, safe ship operations.