The issue of crew change and seafarer repatriation
Much has been written all over the maritime and shipping media and a few mainstream media about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of seafarers who have been stranded on board various ships around the world beyond the expiry of their contracts..
Fatigue after extended periods at sea has significant consequences on the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers..
It also increases the risk of maritime incidents and environmental disasters, and poses a wider threat to the integrity of global supply chains, including maritime disasters which depend on safe and reliable maritime transport..
Everyone agrees that this is not an acceptable way to treat seafarers, who are the frontline workers of the maritime industry carrying 90% of global trade..
BUT, despite significant efforts by international organizations, governments, industry associations, labor unions, NGOs and individual companies including the adoption on 1 December 2020 by the UN General Assembly of a resolution on International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains, the issue is still far from resolved..
Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change
Recognizing that they have a shared responsibility to resolve the crew change crisis, more than 300 companies and organizations have signed the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change..
The Neptune Declaration urges the implementation of four main actions to address the crisis:
- Recognize seafarers as key workers and give them priority access to Covid-19 vaccines
- Establish and implement gold standard health protocols based on existing best practice
- Increase collaboration between ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew changes
- Ensure air connectivity between key maritime hubs for seafarers
A taskforce of stakeholders from across the maritime value chain has identified the following key issues preventing crew changes, that require urgent action:
- While high-quality health protocols have been adopted internationally, they have not been consistently implemented in practice.
- This has led authorities to perceive seafarers as a Covid-19 risk, which has limited the possibilities of crew changes.
- Implementing high-quality crew change protocols will reduce the economic risk of disrupted supply chains but will lead to increased short-term costs.
- The disruption of international air travel has reduced the number of flights, causing connectivity issues between major crew change hubs and major seafaring nations, which has complicated crew changeovers.
The signatories to The Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, believe that “the most effective way of addressing the crew change challenge and building a more resilient maritime logistics chain, is by working together across the value chain with industry stakeholders, organizations and with governments to implement solutions that work in practice“..
International Seaways, Inc., one of the signatories of this declaration is one of the largest tanker companies worldwide providing energy transportation services for crude oil and petroleum products using their owned and operated fleet of 36 vessels..
Commenting on the occasion, Lois K. Zabrocky, International Seaways’ President and CEO said, “The world’s seafarers have continued to provide an essential service, facilitating global trade throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are proud to support this critical initiative to help resolve the current humanitarian crisis at sea.
Seaways continues to prioritize the well-being of our crews and we thank them for their dedication and commitment to maintaining the highest level of professional standards amidst extremely challenging circumstances. This declaration is a crucial step toward getting seafarers home to their families safely and on time.”
Lloyd’s Register is also one of the signatories to the declaration and as per LR’s CEO Nick Brown “Despite efforts being made by international organisations, unions, companies and governments around the world to resolve the crew change crisis, further action is urgently required.
It is vital that we safeguard and protect the committed key workers who maintain our global maritime supply chain and have been on the frontline throughout this pandemic”..
The plight of seafarers was highlighted in an LR, UK Chamber of Shipping, Mission to Seafarers and Safety at Sea survey on maritime workers’ well-being throughout COVID-19 where it was found that many who are providing essential services are feeling undervalued..
Only 8% of seafarer respondents strongly agreed with the statement ‘I feel valued in my role’..
Other signatories to the Neptune Declaration include A.P. Møller – Mærsk, BP, BW, Cargill, COSCO, Euronav, MISC, NYK, Rio Tinto, Shell, Trafigura, Unilever and Vale..
While there are several such initiatives, it all eventually depends on the individual countries to follow all required COVID-19 protocols and allow safe passage for the seafarers as they pass through various countries trying to get home..
It is very disheartening to see that commercial and business travelers are allowed to travel all over the world using the same planes and airports, but seafarers are not allowed to do so.. That is pure discrimination and gross violation of human rights..!!
Spare a thought for these brave souls as they wait in anticipation just to get home………….