The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is of course first and foremost a public health and safety issue, but it is without doubt having a severe impact on the merchant shipping industry.
In the UAE, the government has taken firm actions to stop the spread of the virus within the community and is having considerable success in doing so. However as a regional trade hub it is, as H.E. Eng. Ahmed Mohamed Shareef Al Khoori, Director General of the Federal Transport Authority (Land & Maritime), acknowledges, in a particularly influential position to help address some of the challenges facing the shipping and maritime industry at this time.
Speaking exclusively to The Maritime Standard, he says, “The FTA, in conformity with the international maritime community, recognizes that it is more crucial than ever that cargoes continue to move. To facilitate this, merchant shipping needs to be given some flexibility in cases where issues related to COVID-19 prevent the normal routine.”
In recent weeks, the FTA has issued several circulars to the maritime sector, underlining the precautionary measures that should be taken to minimize the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. However, the circulars also respond to the particular needs of shipping companies, and to seafarers especially.
To facilitate the ships’ crew change process during this period, FTA has decided on a strategy of lifting the restrictions gradually. In the first stage, under special circumstances, the priorities for easing restrictions will be given to: seafarers with a UAE resident visa who are stuck on board their ships; crews of passenger ships currently laid up in the UAE; crew who are no longer medically fit to work onboard their ship; and seafarers with urgent medical needs or humanitarian cases.
Eng. Al Khoori says, “The UAE is responding positively to the plight of seafarers as a result of the pandemic by receiving ships that were rejected by other ports, and seafarers have been received and taken good care of. The UAE, as a leading country in tackling the pandemic crisis in a very humanitarian way, is again showing a true example of tolerance in this very critical situation.”
The FTA has also decided that expired certificates of competency and proficiency, and other certificates issued to seafarers in accordance with the STCW Convention 1978, will be considered as being valid for a period of three months, starting from March 26th this year. H.E. Eng. Al Khoori says, “We will take a practical approach regarding the inspection of all seafarers’ certificates. We have also extended all other statutory certificates and have given authorization to the Classification societies to minimize the number of surveys and to check only ships documentation.”
H.E. Eng. Al Khoori says he is fully aware of the effect the restrictions are having on the maritime industry. He adds, “The maritime sector is very important to the UAE economy, but nothing is more important than the health of our people as our leadership always states. Although it is hard to say how long restrictions will be in place, however, by the guidance of our wise leadership and the continuous thorough evaluation of the situation on a daily basis by the concerned government crisis management authority, which FTA is very closely working with, we will ease restrictions whenever it is safe to do so.”
The FTA Land & Maritime Director General praises the cooperation received to date from the shipping and maritime industry in taking steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. He adds, “On behalf of the FTA, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all stakeholders and to encourage continued cooperation. We are also committed to working together to tackle the aftermath of the crisis and benefit from lessons learned from all services providers, including shipowners, operators, and port authorities in overcoming the outbreak of the pandemic.”