Omicron and crew change: Shipping responds with quarantine plan

Written by Nick Blenkey
Seafarer gest tested for COVID in quarantine area

Seafarer getting COVID-19 tested inside a hotel used as an isolation area. Credit: ICS/NamLong Nguyen/Shutterstock

With the Omicron coronavirus variant leading governments close borders, shipowners, seafarers’ unions and maritime employer groups are responding. They are establishing their own approved international network of quarantine facilities to ensure seafarers can safely join ships, despite unpredictable changes to border policies.

The Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Program (#CrewEQUIP) is a partnership between the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC); the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS); and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Collectively, the organizations represent more than 80% of the global merchant fleet and nearly-one million international seafarers through almost 200 affiliated unions.

#CrewEQUIP will create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed. The program is designed to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having the highest standards and industry-best protocols in place, ensuring the scheme will continue to safely get crew to vessels even if governments increase their quarantine requirements.

The groups said the program is urgently needed to avoid the shipping industry returning to the worst days of the crew change crisis. Those saw 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard vessels beyond their initial contracts in late 2020, with an equivalent number unable to join vessels and earn income.

The groups say that there is still an urgent need for a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition. Meantime, they say, #CrewEQUIP will be important to support greater levels of crew change.

The groups welcomed the announcement this week of a new joint WHO-ILO-industry action group to advance digital “yellow cards” for seafarers and other workers who need to cross borders for their jobs.


Under the #CrewEQUIP scheme, shipping companies and their representatives such as crewing agents and vessel managers are able to sponsor pre-embarkation quarantine facilities for seafarers to be considered for recognition. Facilities must meet #CrewEQUIP’s stringent standards for hygiene, testing integrity and data security.

A facility must also pass inspections by Lloyd’s Register, the program’s external auditor, to become and remain recognized #CrewEQUIP providers.

From Thursday. December 16, shipowners, shipping companies and their representatives will be able to access an online booking portal to nominate pre-embarkation quarantine facilities.

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