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Crew Change Crisis

Hong Kong zero-contact crew change plan awaiting Chief Executive’s green light

Photo: Pixabay - Steven Yu Hong Kong skyline
Shipping experts have proposed to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam that with chartered flights and cruise ships, crew change for ships can be done without seafarers coming into any contact with the public.

Under the proposed scheme, seafarers who have gone through quarantine and Covid-19 tests in their home country will fly on specially chartered flights to Hong Kong and travel directly from the plane to a cruise ship at anchor on a launch boat. Covid-19 tests and immigration clearance will be carried out on board the cruise ship. Seafarers can then wait and rest on the cruise until they are transferred by launch boat to the ship they are signing on. Crew leaving a vessel will follow the same process in reverse.

“Seafarers who sign off a ship in Hong Kong must go straight and board the airplane. But very often flights are cancelled and the crew are stuck on board the ship. This proposal can solve that issue,” explained Jonathan Jones, director and project coordinator of Crew Assist.

Crew Assist is a not for profit task force set up after the Covid-19 outbreak by shipping executives including Gerry Buchanan, managing director at Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR), in Hong Kong.

The suggested arrangement would also bring business to airline and cruise operators who have been hit hard during the pandemic.

Chief Executive Lam replied on 3 November through private secretary that the proposal had been relayed to the Transport and Housing Bureau for follow-up, according to Jones.

The shipping industry has also suggested a financial penalty should be attached to ensure discipline and compliance with the procedure.

Hong Kong had previously relaxed restrictions on crew changes in mid-June in response to unions’ requests, but as of late July tightened the rules to only allow vessels with cargo operations in the port to conduct crew changes due to a spike of coronavirus cases.

The global crew change crisis continues to leave an estimated 300,000 seafarers stranded on vessels after their contracts expire due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.