The International Chamber of Shipping has estimated there are around 100,000 crew changes a month but most are being deferred at the present time as ports across the globe ban such movements as they try to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Synergy Group CEO, Captain Rajesh Unni, is calling for collective managed crew changes to tackle the “time bomb” of the crisis of relieving seafarers at the end of their contracts.
“I believe that collective, carefully managed crew changes at designated ports could help us tackle this crisis,” said Captain Unni. “Seafarers returning home would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period, of course. And those joining ships would need to pass a mandatory medical, including a Covid-19 test. Even if Covid-19 infections subside, which we all hope they will do, putting a plan in place now will be good preparation for the future.”
“In many ports crew changes are simply prohibited,” said Captain Unni. “Elsewhere, vessels from some origins are now forced to remain at anchorage in quarantine for up to 14 days before they can dock. To make matters worse, it is also becoming increasingly difficult for crew to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables such are the restrictions placed on port agents and captains. This is a time bomb. Even under normal circumstance, seafaring is stressful and involves spending long periods of time away from friends and family.”
In an effort to resolve the issue, Captain Unni said he is now reaching out to like-minded stakeholders to expedite collective crew changes. He had spoken to a number of leading ship owners and they agree this is a positive way forward. They have also identified a number of ports where this can be implemented.
“We are now approaching leading shipping organizations and have contacted the IMO about how we can move this forward with the utmost haste.”
Addressing the view put forward by some managers and crewing specialists that seafarers remain safe from the pandemic by staying at sea, Captain Unni commented: “I have heard the argument that seafarers are safest at sea waiting this out. But nobody knows how long this pandemic will last. Doing nothing is not a plan. The inability to enact crew changes is a threat to the mental health of seafarers. They can’t stay at sea indefinitely.”