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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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