Crew change crisis could rebound

Written by Nick Blenkey
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New variants of COVID-19 have brought stricter border control and travel restrictions that threaten to sharply increase the number of seafarers affected by the crew change crisis.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) says that thus far only 55 countries and two associate members of the IMO have declared seafarers to be keyworkers and more work must be done to ensure crew do not once again become collateral damage in the pandemic.

In a December 2020, ruling the International Labor Organisation (ILO) found that governments have failed to protect seafarers’ rights as set out in international law under the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006. The UN agency called on states to recognise seafarers as key workers “without delay.”

Concerns about prioritization for vaccination for seafarers must also be addressed.

Vaccine passports being considered by some governments pose a potential barrier to crew change as seafarers from developing nations are unlikely to have an opportunity to receive vaccines until July at the earliest.

“The crew change crisis is not resolved but has reached a situation where it has been more manageable,” says ICS Secretary General Guy Platten. “However, there is great concern over the increased travel restrictions being imposed by governments in response to new variants. Seafarers must be designated as keyworkers. The crisis is still ongoing, and we will not let up our efforts. Governments will not be able to vaccinate their citizens without the shipping industry or, most importantly, our seafarers.”

“Unless government’s move from the protectionist positions that they’ve been in for over 12 months now, and allow seafarers genuine free movement and prioritization for vaccinations sadly the situation could easily spiral out of control yet again,” says ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton.


These concerns are echoed by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim.

“We cannot be complacent,” he said in a statement released March 19.
Fewer than 60 countries so far have heeded our call for seafarers to be designated as key workers. More countries need to do so if we are to resolve this crisis and ensure seafarers are treated fairly and so that their travel to and from their place of work is properly facilitated. There is still a long way to go before we are back to a normal crew change regime.

“As vaccination is rolled out in many countries, I urge Governments to prioritize seafarers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs.

“Governments should also identify and prepare for the challenges of the vaccination of seafarers who spend long periods of time away from their home countries. We need to continue to work together to develop relevant protocols and guidance around vaccine certification. This is particularly important as any barriers to travel created by national vaccine protocols may further complicate an already difficult crew-change situation.”

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