The issue is high on the agenda for the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and secretary-general Guy Platten states: “The issue of crew change that has arisen due to the coronavirus should be of particular concern to the international community. Every day, seafarers across the world are providing a front-line service to the global economy. Limitations on crew change (the replacement of one of the ship's crew members with another one) have the potential to cause serious disruption to the flow of trade.
“Not only do we have a duty to ensure that global trade continues, but we also must ensure that the welfare of our seafarers is not jeopardised. Although all ICS members are doing a fantastic job at supporting their individual members at a national level, this pressing problem requires the attention of the entire international community."
On 19 March the ICS is set to bring national associations from around the world together for the first of an ongoing set of meetings designed to identify swift and effective solutions arising from COVID-19.
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Dry bulk shipowners association Intercargo said it wished remind societies and nations that during the pandemic that without ships and seafarers cargoes cannot be transported between continents.
The association highlighted the challenges presented in the repatriation of seafarers who have completed their sea service and want to return home to their families.
“Though their colleague seafarers are standing by on shore in their home country, the relief process is stalled as many port states have imposed local regulations, travel and quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19, despite the IMO circulars to be mindful of free access to seafarers. In many cases neither the seafarers nor the companies know for how long these may prevail,” Intercargo stated.
The association urged all IMO member states and port states to adopt a pragmatic approach and remove undue hinderances to seafarers leaving or joining ships.
“Without efficient crew changes, the supply chain would break down leading to basic product shortages and greater hardships for people around the world. It is paramount to consider the mental state of seafarers, who look forward to re-uniting with their families after serving 4-9 months on board a ship, as well as the adverse repercussions on the safe navigation and operation of ships,” Intercargo stated.
“Banning crew changes in ports brings high risks to crews, ships, ports and society.”
Independent tanker owners association Intertanko also noted that control measures to combat the coronavirus were impacting the ability to relieve crew from ships.
“The inability for seafarers to travel and join ships is something that affects the entire shipping industry. The impact on families, the mental welfare of seafarers and issues related to long-term fatigue are very real concerns. For tankers there is the additional impact upon the crew matrix and the breaching of statutory limits on crew trip length,” Intertanko said.
Tanker owners are also facing an impact on the ability to conduct statutory inspections.
“The tanker industry is reliant on the seamless implementation of vetting and inspection regimes administered by OCIMF and CDI. However, ships are unable to undertake SIRE and CDI inspections due to the inability of inspectors being able to travel to ships. This means that many tankers are unable to maintain their regular (six-monthly) inspection schedules,” the association highlighted.
The measures to combat COVID-19 can also impact the ability for specialist repair technicians to board vessels and for flag and class inspectors to issue certificates.
“In order to provide objective evidence that these steps are being followed, Intertanko is advising its members to keep detailed records of all refusals/cancellations of inspections and any problems related to travel for seafarers, superintendents, inspectors and repair technicians,” Intertanko.
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