Shipowner groups warn against banning crew changes due to coronavirus

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In response to media inquiries, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has provided the following statement from Guy Platten, secretary-general: 

(LONDON) — “Economies around the world are entering into a period of profound change. The spread of the coronavirus has resulted in many countries closing their borders and restricting port entry. While containing the virus is vital, we must ensure that global trade is allowed to continue.  

“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 crewmembers 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 jeopardized. 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.  

“That is why, on Thursday, March 19, ICS will be using our convening power 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.  

“The route forward is not yet clear, and no idea will be off the table. We have been working hard on the issue for some time now, having provided input to the European Union while liaising with major international bodies such as the WHO, IMO, ILO and many others. We have already set out guidance which has been made available for free and can be downloaded for free from the ICS website.  

“This meeting will not be a ‘one-off,' but the beginning of a series of regular conference calls with our national associations in response to the significant challenge facing the world, our seafarers and the global shipping community. We want to ensure that all the issues the industry is facing can be addressed together.  

“Now is the time for cooperation and clear thinking. Though we do not have all the answers, we understand that we are stronger and more effective together than when we are apart. Shipping by its nature is a complicated yet seamless interaction of countries, cultures and corporations. Around 90 percent of all goods that people use around the world are transported by sea. It is therefore vital that shipping is able to continue as smoothly and safely as possible to ensure that the world is able to fight the COVID-19 virus.” 

The following is text of a news release from Intercargo:

(LONDON) — The coronavirus (COVID-19) has already caused the loss of thousands of human lives and the imposition by authorities of travel restrictions and lockdown of cities, provinces and countries across the world. Communities across most continents and economies are currently subjected to this serious threat and resulting turmoil.

During this very difficult pandemic, our association wishes to remind societies and nations that without merchant ships and seafarers, cargoes cannot be transported between continents.

Dry bulk carriers remain the workhorses of international shipping, which transports approximately 90 percent of world trade, serving essential needs such as food and energy: main and minor dry bulks include cereals, grains, agricultural and forest products, as well as iron and other mineral ores, coal and fertilizers, and several other basic goods serving infrastructure for the well-being of populations.

Intercargo wishes to highlight the logistical challenges with the repatriation of seafarers who have completed their sea service and seek their relief and re-joining 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.

While our association totally supports IMO’s and other stakeholders’ issued guidance, such as on operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases on ships, also disseminated via our website, Intercargo urges IMO member states and all port states to adopt a pragmatic approach in assisting shipowners and seafarers to overcome these challenges by removing undue hinderance for seafarers to leave or join a ship in their ports.

The world relies on transportation by sea and the dry bulk shipping sector’s services. Seafarers need our support and compassion with measured, rather than overzealous, restrictions in relation to COVID-19. 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 four to nine months on board a ship, as well as the adverse repercussions on the safe navigation and operation of ships.

Banning crew changes in ports brings high risks to crews, ships, ports and society.

By Professional Mariner Staff