The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the world made its own rules in the logistics and movement of humans and goods. If ordinary travelers have no opportunity to fly freely to foreign countries, so, what about seamen who stuck on board for longer durations or those who are out of work? IMO makes every effort to facilitate the working conditions of crew members while they are sailing or entering ports, during crew change or their travel home. However, the final decision is still up to the governments and ship managers.
Seatrade Maritime News reported, that difficulties in mobilizing crew due to the lock down situation in seafaring nations and movement restrictions is one of the reasons to defer crew changes. That was stated by the representative of Wilhelmsen Ship Management. Also, such decision can mitigate the risk of contamination of other crew on board coming from onsigners. That is the position of global crew managers.
About 90 % of global goods, including food, raw materials and spare parts, is transported by merchant fleet. According to this, seafarers are significant sector of society during the pandemic.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) & International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have joined forces and established task force to address the need to facilitate crew changes. Existing restrictions imply global crew changes no earlier than April 30. It must be noted, that earlier crew changes were planned for March 30. In accordance with international safety and employment regulations seafarers cannot remain on board indefinitely. That’s why, ICS & ITF intend to propose the designation of a certain number (perhaps 12 – 15 worldwide) of special crew change ports and airports from where large numbers of crew changes can be effected, despite any other national entry restrictions that might come into force.
These ports are supposed to be located close to main shipping routes as well as convenient for crew change and further crew members’ disembarkation. So, they have to have free access to a hub airport, perhaps served by a world-wide airline with connections to a large range of destinations in or close to the leading seafarer countries of residence (in particular including air routes to China, India, Philippines, EU and Eastern Europe).
First, ICS & ITF are going to ask for help and immediate support on this matter from IMO, which will also be requested to seek the support of the International Civil Aviation Agency (IACO).
Second, IMO and ICAO would be asked to request their Member States to start discussions with national stakeholders about adjustments to any existing general restrictions on flights, disembarkation from ships in port and relevant quarantine, screening and health protocols, taking account of the recommendations within IMO Circular Letter 4204/Add6.
All point above ICS & ITF are preparing to send in a joint letter to the IMO Secretary-General.
Earlier ICS & ITF have sent an open letter to four United Nations (UN) bodies urging them to allow crew changes to be facilitated while the COVID-19 pandemic is running wild. This letter addressed to the Director General, United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), Secretary-General, United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO), Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and Director General, World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the importance of global shipping. They expected, that governments will continue to keep this sector moving as the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold.
“In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving”. The letter claims. “In particular, this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.”
ICS & ITF insist on importance of seafarers’ travelling. They might get some benefits from international airlines and other operators in these challenging times, when seamen join or leave their vessels.