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Crew change challenge remains, push for global seafarer vaccination programme

Photo: Marcus Hand carolineyangssa.JPG
Caroline Yang, President of Singapore Shipping Association
Crew change remains a top challenge in the industry according to the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA), and both industry and authorities are pushing for a global vaccination programme for seafarers.

“For the maritime sector the most important is crew change, something we’re still challenged with,” Caroline Yang, President of Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) told a media briefing organised by the Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) ahead of Singapore Maritime Week 2021.

“Covid-19 was really not easy for crew change. I will tell you the cost is just so mindboggling, but we decided we needed to do it. We needed to make sure the crew goes home, we needed to make sure the ship needed to move.”

Asked by Seatrade Maritime News for details on how much additional cost is incurred Yang said it varied by seafarer. But, for example, an airfare instead of being $300 could be $3,000 per person if it was a charter flight rather than scheduled and then there are quarantine costs.

Singapore rolled protocols for crew change in June 2020, and this year has prioritised workers in the maritime sector, including seafarers working in port waters, for vaccinations.

Quah Ley Hoon, chief executive of the MPA said: “Thus far we have facilitated more 120,000 crew changes in Singapore, and we have vaccinated more than 27,000 port and onshore marine personnel.

“On seafarers we’ve made a call right upfront to vaccinate our onshore maritime personnel as well as our local seafarers.”

However, while Singapore has been able to vaccinate seafarers working locally in the port, prioritising the vaccination of the global seafaring workforce is another much larger, international issue.

mpasmwpressbriefing.JPG“We have been working with the IMO to encourage member states to prioritise and vaccinate their seafarers,” Quah said. However, this remains call for each individual country to make.

“We’re working on a global level to see how we can get this momentum going for a global programme to vaccinate seafarers. We are looking at some sort of global allocation of vaccines,” she explained.

For the industry crew change remains a major challenge despite the protocols developed by various countries.

Elaborating on the current situation SSA’s Yang said: “I am of the view Singapore is the safest place, with other countries there some leaks along the way…where we don’t have very accurate test results, so it’s still a challenge in some other countries.

“But Singapore also has its challenges because it’s very strict on its protocols so sometimes we also feel it’s easier to do crew change in other countries. But every country has its challenges.”

For Singapore the requirement of PCR test from the last port of call before calling Singapore can be challenge. Yang said while she understood the rationale it could be difficult to arrange a PCR test in the last port of call.