Shipping is facing growing restrictions on crew change operations following a surge of Covid cases in some traditional crew supply countries. In response to the surge in Covid cases in India, for example, Khorfakkan Immigration has recently advised that vessels arriving from the country must now complete 14 days quarantine in order to perform crew changes at the UAE port. The 14 day period is calculated from the day the ship departs from an Indian port.
Even if a vessel is coming from India and is transiting another port outside the UAE, the ship will need to complete 14 days’ quarantine in order to carry out crew change at Khorfakkan. For Indian nationals, the option for crew change has been completely suspended, adding further complexity to the task of shipowners and managers trying to find ways of facilitating this process within the region. As well as Khorfakkan the port of Singapore has also recently introduced tough restrictions on vessels that have called in India and are limiting crew change possibilities.
As border restrictions are reinstated with the Covid crisis in India and the spread of new variants many senior shipping executives say the picture is bleak. There is a growing consensus that the crew change crisis still far is over and the rapid spread of new strains of Covid, in India and other countries, represent a big cause for concern for the industry.
Despite calls from the shipping industry to designate seafarers as key workers and allow crew changes, more than a year into the pandemic only 57 countries out of 174 IMO member states have acted. As a result, there are still more than 400,000 seafarers still stranded at sea.
Bjoern Sprotte, CEO of ship management at leading ship manager, V.Group, said: “As the world prepares to come out of lockdown, seafarers are playing an essential role in transporting vaccines, PPE and medical supplies. The fact that we are not vaccinating those who are transporting the vaccine is an outrage.”
V.Group recently joined 750 companies and organisations in signing the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change which calls for recognition of seafarers as key workers and priority access to Covid-19 vaccines. Frustrated by the lack of progress and slow pace of international efforts, the ship managers’ association, InterManager, has vowed to work separately to obtain Covid-19 vaccines to protect the world’s seafarers and thereby keep international trade routes open.
InterManager President, Mark O’Neil, said: “Global organisations have talked their way round in circles and still we are no further forward in providing a vaccination programme for seafarers who are vital in ensuring that world trade and aid continues to be delivered. InterManager says enough is enough. Realising that the international efforts have not been sufficient in recognising the importance of the vaccination of seafarers, we will now work on sourcing vaccinations separately through legitimate channels to enable our members to vaccinate their seafarers as soon as possible and to support others within the maritime industry to do the same.”