ICS, Shipping Alliance Ask for Government Measures for Crew Changes!


In a major development, an alliance of leading maritime companies desperately concerned about seafarer welfare and the viability of ocean supply chains in the midst of coronavirus restrictions has developed detailed crew changeover risk assessment plans, reports the Ship Insight’s Malcolm Latarche.

Despite that it’s falling short as it needs urgent political and regulatory support to enact them, explains Latarche.

What is it?

The alliance has developed port viability and detailed seafarer risk assessment plans which it is convinced will mitigate the risk of coronavirus infections during essential crew changeovers.

It is now urging immediate governmental and inter-governmental action to enable the resumption of crew changes including the designation of seafarers as ‘key workers’.

Representing more than 1,500 vessels and over 70,000 seafarers, the alliance includes D/S Norden, Grieg Star, Reederei Nord, Dynacom, V.Group, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, Pacific Carriers Limited (PCL), Magsaysay, Augustea, Columbia Ship Management, Inchcape Shipping Services and Synergy Group.

Need for this

Current coronavirus policy as applied to shipping is a potentially disastrous “own goal” that threatens not only the mental health and human rights of seafarers, but also the viability of ocean supply chains on which those in lockdown depend, according to an alliance of leading shipowners and managers.

At present, more than 100,000 seafarers are in effect marooned at sea because coronavirus shutdowns worldwide are preventing them from entering or transiting countries and/or finding flights on which to return home.

COVID19 Measures Detrimentral To Key Workers?

Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO and Founder of leading Singapore-based ship manager Synergy Group, commented, “We understand COVID-19 is a black swan event. But measures aimed at protecting society were never intended to prevent key workers from carrying out tasks essential to the ongoing wellbeing of society. These policies were also not intended to be detrimental to the welfare of key workers such as seafarers. Yet that is exactly what is now happening. Current policy represents a potentially disastrous own goal. Our collective aim as responsible owners and managers employing tens of thousands of seafarers is to pursue every means possible to get crew back to their families.”

The Alliance Response & Strategy

The ‘who’s who’ alliance of like-minded shipping companies came together in response to the crew change crisis which has intensified as coronavirus has spread around the world.

  • Members believe collective crew changes at identified ports are a feasible short-term aim even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic if State assistance is made available.
  • The alliance has identified key ports where collective crew changes can potentially be organised. The ports include Singapore, Houston, Rotterdam, Gibraltar, Jebel Ali, Fujairah, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

“As well as identifying ports we have also developed a rigorous risk assessment methodology and drawn up action plans that we, as employers of seafarers and organisers of crew logistics, can implement to mitigate the risks of infection,” said Captain Unni.

ICS Supporting This

“We are delighted to have the support of the International Chamber of Shipping and International Transport Workers’ Federation. Governments must act and assign ports in proximity to suitable airports so that crew changes can be resumed. This really is a time bomb. It is imperative governments recognise this and take action,” he added.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) are jointly calling on governments to take urgent measures to facilitate crew change flights for seafarers, says an article published on ICS website

  • Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, seafarers are having to extend their service onboard ships after many months at sea, unable to be replaced following long tours of duty or return home.
  • Shipping is vital to the maintenance of global supply chains, but the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and wellbeing of ships’ crews and the safe operation of maritime trade.
  • Each month about 100,000 merchant seafarers need to be changed over from the ships on which they operate to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations protecting safety, health and welfare.

As a result of government-imposed travel restrictions due to COVID-19, flights to repatriate or position marine personnel are unavailable. Immigration and health screening protocols are also hampering the ability of merchant ships to conduct vitally necessary crew changes.

IATA and ICS are working together to come forward with safe and pragmatic solutions that governments can implement to facilitate crew changes at certain airports.


“Seafarers are unsung heroes who everyday throughout this COVID-19 crisis are going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that countries are kept supplied with the goods they need. We are working with the airlines to come forward with solutions. We now need governments to support our seafarers and facilitate safe passage for them to get home to loved ones and be replaced by crew members ready to keep supply chains open,” said ICS Secretary General, Guy Platten.


Minimal Risk in Collective Crew Changes?

The alliance is confident that collective crew changes can be managed at minimal risk. “Whilst we, as responsible owners and managers, would have to work on the micro level to deal with the logistics of transporting a seafarer from his home to the vessel and vice versa, matters such as access to airlines and airports and immigration clearances are political decisions,” alliance members said a joint statement. We urge port states and the G20 nations to take all actions possible to facilitate crew changes.

Importance of This

“The world relies on seafarers to deliver everything they need including medicines, food and energy. The shipping industry and seafarers are now relying on the world’s politicians to respect their human rights and protect their welfare in these difficult times. Seafarers are key workers and they should be classified as such and their plight addressed with all expediency.”

Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), said he was proud of how the shipping industry was responding to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. “90% of all global trade is transported by commercial shipping,” he added. “At the heart of all this are the unsung heroes – ship crews especially, but also port staff and those who provide the logistics for the ships. Governments must not forget that our seafarers are key workers and ensure consistent support at this critical time.”

Over 1.6 million seafarers keep the world’s merchant fleet at sea, delivering fuel, medicines, food and equipment to those countries where large portions of the population are currently under curfew as governments try to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Every month around 100,000 seafarers are rotated on/off vessels worldwide in accordance with international safety and working hours regulations. However, the closure of borders and strict quarantine rules are preventing crew changes from being completed in accordance with employment contracts and international conventions including the Maritime Labour Convention, leaving thousands stranded at sea for periods far beyond their contracts.

Seafarers Key Workers

Seafarers must be officially recognised as essential workers in the fight against COVID-19, believes David Wonfor, Vice President, Global Head of Managed Services, Inchcape Shipping Services. “Seafarers have limitations on the amount of time they can work onboard a vessel which is governed by the vessel Flag State. Even if this period can be extended in exceptional circumstances, it can be detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of crew to work for such extended periods without any downtime. Seafarers who are now stranded ashore and cannot re-join vessels will not be earning any income and in many cases are the only breadwinner in their families.”

Governments Need To Act

Graham Westgarth, CEO of V.Group, is concerned about the mental health of seafarers stranded at sea indefinitely. “First and foremost, prolonged periods of service onboard will ultimately result in a significant increase in mental wellbeing issues among the seafaring community. We should also be aware of the negative impact it will have on their families. Ultimately, such a situation can only jeopardise the safety of the individuals and potentially the vessels they sail on,” he said.

Westgarth called for governments and regulators to recognise the critical role seafarers play in the supply chain and their importance to the safe delivery of food, medical equipment and energy sources. “Simply put, governments need to adopt mechanisms which allow unencumbered movement of seafarers to and from their vessels,” he added. “The European Commission has issued guidelines to this effect. These should be adopted not only by EU members but on a global basis. The shipping industry recognises that it needs to play its part by putting in place relevant risk mitigation strategies.”

Brendon Hawley, Head of Safety and Compliance, Wilhelmsen Ships Service, added: “The safety and welfare of our customers’ crew is always at the heart of everything we do as port agents. This current situation, where crew change is close to impossible in most ports around the world, is not sustainable long-term. With a truly global network of port agents, we are proud to work alongside Synergy and other leading ship managers and owners in finding solutions in ports when and where crew change can resume. However, we are fully dependent on support from governments and regulators to make this happen.”

Governments Need To Identify Airports for Crew Changes

“Airlines have been required to cut passenger services in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19. But if governments identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols, airlines can help keep global logistics moving,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General and CEO.

Designated Airports

  • ICS and IATA are calling on all governments to designate a specific and limited number of crew change airports for the safe movement and repatriation of crew.
  • This would achieve critical mass for the resumption of crew change flights to these airports, keeping global supply chains open.
  • Priority airports should include those close to major shipping lanes which also have direct air connections to principal seafarer countries of residence, such as China, India and the Philippines as well as destinations in western and eastern Europe.

Facilitating Movement of International Transport Personnel

Aviation and shipping companies face common challenges in carrying out crew changes while complying with immigration and quarantine restrictions introduced by most governments around the world.

As authorities continue to battle COVID-19, international transport personnel operating aircraft and ships, or transiting international borders for duty, are often affected by national restrictions designed for passengers and non-essential personnel. When applied to crew not interacting with local communities, these restrictions unnecessarily jeopardize the ability of airlines and shipping companies to keep global supply chains operating.

IATA and ICS are working with their global regulators – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – on recommendations to governments for standardized procedures and protocols for positioning crews whilst preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

Keeping Global Supply Chains Operating

The aviation and maritime transport industries are the lifeblood of the global economy, moving the world’s goods and products which are necessary to allow society to continue to function efficiently throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

• By volume, some 90% of global trade is delivered by ship, including food, energy, raw materials and manufactured products.

• Airlines carry, in addition to passengers, some 35% of global trade by value, including critical medicines and medical supplies.

G20 governments, at their recent emergency meetings, committed to “minimize disruptions to trade and global supply chains” and identified the need to prioritize keeping air and sea logistics networks open and functioning efficiently.

Shipping & Aviation Working Together

Shipping companies and airlines are cooperating to meet this priority by ensuring that reliable operations continue throughout the pandemic. However, these networks will grind to a halt if replacement crews are unavailable for duty. Governments must take urgent action now to avoid further damage to the battered global economy

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Source: ICS, Ship Insight


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