With owners and managers deferring crew changes due to both travel and port restrictions aiming at stopping the spread of COVID-19 the issue is becoming an increasingly emotive one.
Weighing in with those who believe seafarers may well be safer to stay on vessels they are currently on, even if their contract period has ended, is East European specialist Danica Crewing Services who believe crew would suffer a bigger risk of catching the virus while travelling to and from postings.
Danica managing director Jensen commented: “I understand why the ITF, ICS and others are arguing that seafarers should continue to travel to and from vessels for regular crew changeovers. However, with a potential 100,000 seafarers transiting each month, I do not believe this is the best approach at this present time.
“Some vessel operators think it is stressful for crew to stay onboard for longer and better for them to go home – I disagree. That may well be the case for crew who have completed postings of more than nine months, such as many Filipino ratings do. However, for those with contract lengths of four to seven months, or less, I think it is not a problem to stay longer, rather than risk becoming infected as they transit home, or to jeopardise the health of those remaining by potentially bringing infected seafarers on to the vessel in replacement,” he explained.
Jensen pointed out that the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) does allow a maximum term of 12 months at sea.
Of particular concern to Jensen is a seafarer falling ill with COVID-19 after they have joined the vessel as merchant vessels are not equipped to deal with seriously ill seafarers.
“If the homebound seafarer gets infected then hopefully the medical care systems in their home country will be able to cope. What really concerns me is what will happen to an infected seafarer onboard,” he said.
“Firstly, no commercial vessels are equipped to deal with a crew member seriously ill from coronavirus COVID-19 who may be in need of ventilation and intensive care. Help could be very far away if the vessel is on a long voyage – and even may not be readily available in port.
“Secondly, if the virus comes onboard then it will almost certainly affect several persons, if not the entire crew. Will the ship then be able to operate in a safe way? How can vessel operators provide medical care to an entire crew far out at sea?”
Although it can be inconvenient and stressful for individual seafarers he believes it is better to halt crew changes until the situation is under better control.
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