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2020 – The year of the crew change crisis

Photo: Wilhelmsen Crew change with masks under COVID protocols
Crew change in Singapore
So, hands up who predicted at the start of the year that the biggest issue in shipping in 2020 would be crew change? It’s a fair presumption to say no-one.

As this year has underscored global crew change for shipping is a complex international human logistics operation. But was also one that outside of crewing departments and specialist marine travel companies shipping executives did not normally lose too much sleep over.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic was to change all of that and by the latter part of March as the pandemic spread globally and more, and more countries started to lockdown it started to become clear that crew change was becoming a problem.

ICS and ITF call on UN agencies to ensure ports stay open and allow crew changes

By early April the IMO was urging for seafarers to be exempted from travel bans and Seatrade Maritime News readers were rating crew changes as their top business impact from Covid-19.

IMO urges travel ban exemption for seafarers

Crew changes top business impact for readers from COVID-19

The problem grew rapidly worse through April and May and by June there were figures of over 300,000 seafarers and the ITF was saying it would assist seafarers in their rights to leave ships.

300,000 seafarers trapped at sea: Intercargo

Crew change crisis: ITF to assist seafarers in their right to leave ships

But at the same time there did appear to be some good news from major hub ports in Asia in terms of getting crew change back on track.

First crew change under new Singapore guidelines

Hong Kong to allow unrestricted crew changes

However, by the end of July some of the gains made started to be lost as a few who flouted the rules caused problems for the rest who had followed the new protocols for international crew change.

ICS warns minority flouting crew change protocols risk ‘severe setbacks’ for all

‘A few rotten apples’ brought disrepute over crew change: HK associations

Over the following months there were continued calls for action at an international level, but little changed in terms of getting seafarers recognised as key workers, or new global system of safe crew change up and running.

Time for tough talking on crew change

Critical for crew change global solution with Covid-19 second wave: ONE ceo Nixon

Meanwhile owners and managers have worked around the situation as far as they possibly can to get crew changes done despite the wide variety of obstacles.

Planning crew change when ‘what is possible today, may not be possible tomorrow’

Meanwhile adding to the list of problems some charters, particularly in dry bulk shipping, have started to block crew changes from taking place, even where owners are willing to pay the costs of deviation.

Charterers preventing crew changes - Intercargo

MSC in crew change plea for seafarers stuck on chartered bulk carrier

As we move into 2021 the crew change issue remains a top priority across the shipping industry but it remains to be seen if the latest landmark ruling by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee of Experts has found governments are in breach of seafarers’ rights finally helps push for a global solution.

Landmark ruling by UN agency finds governments in breach of seafarers’ rights

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