Government actions to combat COVID are continuing to make life unreasonably difficult for seafarers. The crew change crisis has been going on for more than 15 months and is getting worse, not better, says the Global Maritime Forum, an international not-for-profit organisation.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crew change crisis which has led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being impacted and, in many instances, left stranded on ships beyond the expiry of their contracts. The crisis has now been ongoing for more than a year and a half, and the latest data shows that the situation is getting worse. This is despite good efforts by the maritime community to address the crisis… If left unresolved, the impact of the difficulties in carrying out crew-changes could expand as seafarers understandably enough start considering whether they want to return to sea, which could pose a threat to the resilience of global supply chains”, the Global Maritime Forum said in a statement.
The Global Maritime Forum organised the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, which has been signed by more than 800 organisations. Shipping Australia is a signatory to the Neptune Declaration.
The Neptune Declaration publishes a “Crew change indicator” which takes into account the percentage of seafarers who are onboard beyond the expiry of their initial contracts and the percentage of seafarers who have been onboard for over 11 months.
The percentage of seafarers stuck aboard ships beyond the expiry of their contracts rose from 5.8% in May 2021 to 8.8% in July 2021. The percentage of seafarers stuck onboard beyond 11 months has risen to above 1.0% for the first time in months.
Global shipping group, the International Chamber of Shipping, has estimated that about 200,000 seafarers have been adversely affected by restrictions that hinder seafarers from boarding or disembarking from ships.
The situation for seafarers is getting worse because of the continued rise in COVID cases around the world and especially in nations that are important source countries of seafarers. Around the world there have been increased government restrictions on crew change hubs, which has limited the opportunity for shipping companies to carry out crew changes. Travel and local restrictions have also caused disruptions to crew movements and have complicated crew-changes. A decrease in flights and travel bans have made it more difficult for seafarers to join vessels or to go home.
The Global Maritime Forum points out that, with the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID, governments have tightened restrictions, closed borders and have often imposed stricter requirements on seafarers than for other travellers, despite the vital role that seafarers play in global supply chains. Protecting global supply chains by enabling crew changes can be done by implementing high-quality health protocols based on the highest-standards such as the “Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic“, which has been recognised by the International Maritime Organization.