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Suicides, assaults and pleas for help as crew change crisis worsens

News - Shipping and Freight ResourceIt is alarming when news of suicide attempts, violence and desperation becomes commonplace.

This is, unfortunately, the state of affairs today with seafarers who are tired, on the brink of mental breakdowns (some have already gone over) and very desperate – this desperation is manifesting through various incidents.

Some of these have been listed below:

On July 4, Al Jazeera reported, “Six migrants on board a rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea tried to kill themselves and others have gotten into fights and threatened fellow passengers and crew members in growing desperation over their inability to find a country willing to take them in.

July 9 brought three reports from different sources about three separate incidents:

The Star reported, “The frozen body of an Indonesian man has been found aboard a detained Chinese fishing vessel, authorities said Thursday (July 9), adding that they suspected foul play in the crew member’s death. Indonesian police said they intercepted two boats in the Malacca Strait this week after receiving a tip off that a crew member had died aboard one of the vessels.

“The 20-year-old may have been tortured and his body had been kept inside a freezer of the Lu Huang Yuan Yu 117 since late June,” said Riau province police spokesman Harry Golden Hart. “The victim had physical injures, but we’re conducting an autopsy to determine the cause of death,” he told AFP.

Dozens of crew members hailing from China, Indonesia and the Philippines were being questioned in connection with the man’s death. Anti-trafficking experts say the fishing industry is riddled with forced labour and exploited workers can face non-payment, overwork, violence and death.

Japan Times stated, “Karika Neethling wanted to get home as the coronavirus pandemic convulsed the cruise industry in March. Her anxiety grew more desperate when she learned she was pregnant.

But for nearly three months, the 27-year-old South African was caught in a web of border restrictions and corporate bureaucracy, shuttled on ships between ports in the Bahamas and Italy as her employer, MSC Cruises SA, worked to get its crews home. I don’t think we were ever priorities,” said Neethling, who worked as a shop employee aboard the luxury liner the MSC Preziosa. “I was depressed and in despair thinking I might have this baby on the ship.

Again, on July 9, a report by Thomson Reuters told the story of a captain who disembarked after 167 days at sea. It said, “Jens Boysen disembarked one of the world’s largest container ships on Thursday after 167 days at sea when he has acted not only as captain but also as doctor, dentist, mental coach and entertainment director for his stressed-out crew.

Boysen, captain of the Emma Maersk, said two crew members developed toothache but were not allowed to leave the ship.”I got medical advice, and then I pulled the teeth out,” Boysen said, standing on the dock in Hamburg after bidding his crew farewell. “It felt almost like a war situation,” he added.”


Splash 24/7 stated on July 14, “Twelve crewmembers onboard the 1985-built 5,500 DWT oil tanker Viet Tin 01 are desperately looking for help as the vessel has been stranded in Malaysian waters since mid-March and they are running out of food and supplies.

The seafarers onboard the vessel wrote “Help us. No food. No salary” on the hull of the vessel in an effort to seek help and they have also sent out a distress call through a mobile app used by seafarers globally.”

In addition to this, there is an increase in frustration with fights ensuing among the crew onboard ships due to delayed wages, fatigue and the uncertainty of relief. Those that are stuck at home are stressed out about not being able to join a ship and earn their livelihoods to support their families.

The frequency of these reports and the continued crisis with respect to crew change and repatriation points to the little power that industry bodies, unions and regulators have in moving governments first to designate seafarers as key workers and now, to ensure safe crew exchanges and repatriation.

75% of necessary crew changes haven’t taken place since the Covid-19 situation gripped the globe in March.

The majority of passport offices and consulates are closed, and therefore the necessary documentation, certification and permissions remain held up.

However, a glimmer of hope shone on the 10th of July when the governments of 12 countries issued a joint statement pledging their commitment to help solve the current seafarer ‘crisis’ at an International Maritime Virtual Summit on Crew Changes hosted by the UK, also urging other nations to follow suit.

The inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes (during the pandemic) is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade,” the statement read.

The signatory governments, therefore, called on all IMO member states to:

  • recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’, accepting their international seafarer documents as legal
    proof of such if necessary;
  • implement as far as possible the maritime industry’s agreed protocols for safe crew changes;
  • amend quarantine restrictions as needed to exempt seafarers;
  • explore together with the aviation industry suitable flight options for safe crew travel.

Efforts such as these are the need of the hour because If the situation continues as such and
remains unchecked, it can turn into a humanitarian crisis affecting people from all over the world
and with cascading effects on global trade.


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