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Interview: Liberia calls for joint effort from Flag States to allow crew changes

Last week, The Liberian Registry made a call for Flag States to join together in efforts for facilitating crew changes with international recognition of seafarers as “key workers”.

This designation would allow much-needed crew-exchange at global key ports during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Liberia is looking to enlist other Flag States’ help in this mission to design a global plan, permitting seafarers to safely embark and disembark from vessels.
 
“Seafarers should be given the opportunity to return home upon the completion of their sea service, which, to date, has been largely impossible,” said
Alfonso Castillero, coo of the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR), Alfonso Castillero.  “I have been very pleased with the cooperation and communication thus far in working closely with key bodies such as ITF, ICS, and the IMO.”  
 
“It has also been good to see the efforts of nations such as Singapore and others progressing to allow the continuous operation of their ports, and the recognition of the importance that seafarers play in the global economy.  There is a lot of work being done globally to get this achieved.  I strongly feel that the major Flag States must work together in unison to make this shared priority of ours a reality,” he added.
 

Seatrade Maritime News asked Liberia’s Castillero for details and to explain how  the proposal would be advanced.


Seatrade Maritime News: How do you plan to get together the Flag States for supporting the project?

Afonso Castillero: There are several things a flag can do. Flag States should advocate and work in support of the efforts to facilitate crew change, or to motivate large scale change.  We can all raise our voice where we have one: IMO, ILO, and even working with other large bodies that have been vocal like the ITF.  We have to put our input together, and we cannot be a barrier.  A flag state cannot be a barrier, but a facilitator here. We have seen some good movements from other flags, but for the most part we have seen little or nothing from others.

Documentation: Flag states will be issuing the great deal of documents the seafarers will need to be allowed to travel. These should be issued timely in order not to hold up this essential crew change process.

Until now, some flags have been doing things in what could be seen as an irresponsible manner with the Flag States issuing blind/generic level authorisations and acceptances, showing no Flag State involvement or vetting to ensure safety and legitimacy.  A lack of minimum due diligence can be costly in the long run.  This opens up for PSC issues; it opens up for documentary questioning when trying to categorise “seafarers as essential workers”; and in cases where legal agreements (SEA’s) are being extended, a Flag should do a lot of due diligence here, not just blind authorisations. 

Further, some other Flag States are extending certifications, without fully considering all underlying national accreditations and considerations for seafarers’ employment contracts. To extend them without a proper review is a bad precedent.

We don’t know how efficient other Flags will be when the recovery happens as there will be a great rush at once. We see this being a MASSIVE issue. There will be a flood of seafarers getting ready to get out to sea and Flag States will need to be ready to issue documents, authorisations, and what they need to get on the ships.  Again, Flags should be positioned and prepared to be a help, not a hinderance.

We urge Flag States to respond and support the Protocol that is being drafted by the ICS and the IMO. It is important that we unite as a sole body to bring a solution to the Seafarers crisis. There are some 1.2 million seafarers on board of around 65,000 vessels who await new crew change policies, we cannot leave them alone. We feel that it is our responsibility and that of all Flag States to come together for that purpose.

 

Seatrade Maritime News: Who would designate seafarers as “Key Workers”?

Alfonso Castillero: Flags States: We need to push IMO, ILO, UN, G20, WHO using each country seat to make it happen. Lot of progress has been made by ICS, ITF, IMO etc. The ICS and the IMO are already responding to the issue.

National Governments (Philippines, India, Ukraine, Russia, etc.) of the labour supplying states. 

National Governments (Singapore, UAE, Netherlands, UK, USA, Panama) of the transit and port states

 

Seatrade Maritime News: Did you get any feedback on your proposal?

Alfonso Castillero: Some Flags did reach out to us. We look forward to the others to join the effort; this is the only solution at this very moment. We have been very vocal on that issue for a long time and have reached out at the IMO, with the ITF, and with ICS on this matter directly. 

Many members from the industry: shipowners, operators and managers are supporting our proactive stance and applauding our efforts to raise this level as highly as possible.

Shipping people know that our Flag will be involved. And we have seen a lot of industry outreaching with us on this, and supporting our more aggressive and vocal approach.

 

Seatrade Maritime News: Timing is everything now. The maritime industry is running against the clock. Do you have any time frame?

Alfonso Castillero: Yes, time is running out. We are months into the pandemic now and the global economy needs solutions soon before irreparable damage is done. 

These seafarers are at the end of their service time and their extended service time, which means it has to happen as soon as practicably possible.

 

 

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