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China’s zero Covid policy increases crew change woes

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Improving figures for crew change and seafarer vaccination numbers belie growing difficulties for Chinese crew due to strict isolation measures.

According to the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator the number of seafarers onboard vessels beyond the duration of their contracts decreased to 7.1% at the start of November compared to 7.9% a month earlier. The vaccination rate for seafarers also increased to 41% in November compared to 31% in October, as more countries and ports offer jabs to international crew.

However, China’s growing restrictions as tries to maintain a zero Covid policy are making it increasingly difficult onboard and repatriate Chinese seafarers.

“Some ship managers also report how the onboarding and repatriation of Chinese seafarers is becoming increasingly difficult, due to stricter Chinese Government isolation requirements on seafarers post sign off and prior to repatriation,” the Global Maritime Forum (GMF), which publishes the indicator said.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Chinese seafarers serving on international trading vessels since the start of the pandemic driven in part by newbuildings from Chinese shipyards having to be crewed by China national seafarers due to the inability to bring foreign national seafarers into the country.

Lockdowns and flight cancellations exacerbate the problems with crew change. As China battles to keep its zero Covid strategy in the face of the Delta variant it has been locking down entire cities over a few cases, and is particularly concerned over cases coming in through sea and airports, as was underscored by the Yantian and Ningbo container terminal closures earlier this year.

“It is positive to see the numbers are slowly improving and there has been good progress with seafarer vaccinations. Nevertheless, the numbers hide the persistent difficulties of global crew changes in repatriating crew and onboarding seafarers, which is likely to continue,” said Kasper Søgaard, Managing Director, Head of Institutional Strategy and Development, Global Maritime Forum. 

The Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator builds on aggregated data from 10 leading ship managers: Anglo- Eastern, Bernhard Schulte, Columbia Shipmanagement, Fleet Management , OSM, Synergy Marine, Thome, V.Group, Wallem, and Wilhelmsen Ship Management, which collectively have about 90,000 seafarers currently onboard.

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