The pandemic has caused the shipping industries around the world to go in lockdown for a while. About 80% of the world trade is carried out by commercial vessels and the lockdown can cause potential disruption and clogging up of the global supply chain.
The delay for crew exchanges makes the situation even worse. Seafarers have worked beyond their contracts for several months owing to the travel restrictions.
Singapore has done its bit by working with shipping companies, partners, seafarer unions and has facilitated the crew change. Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has facilitated about 3000 crew change cases starting from March 27. It arranged 3 chartered flights for seafarers to go home. The new crew was efficiently and safely redeployed. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has disclosed these numbers.
Lockdown still prevails in Singapore and entry of short term visitors are not permitted.
A set of guidelines were formulated as per Singapore Crew Change Working Group (SCCWG) protocol. Under these guidelines, the Wilhelmsen and Synergy group have made possible the 1st ever crew exchange amidst virus curbs.
First of all, they made sure that those who disembark were either those who are medically unfit to continue on a ship or those who have spent the maximum onboard such that their employees can’t be extended. Similarly, the crew members whose employment contract has expired and those taking precautionary measures put forth by MPA were allowed to board the ship.
The crew change took place in such a way that the transfer takes place directly between the point of arrival/departure and the ship. This was done through chartered flights. Flights were arranged from Singapore to Colombo to take the disembarked ones home. Colombo which functions as a crew exchange hub will thus facilitate the Indians among the crew to get back home.
The first flight took off from Changi Airport last Sunday with 18 seafarers from India and Srilanka brought in and 19 man crew was replaced.
Crew exchanges were allowed under strict procedures put forth by MPA. Thus the crucial matter was addressed together by competitors, customers, regulators as well as industry bodies. They felt that the fellow seafarers have their rights for a long-overdue reunion with their loved ones.
Compulsory home quarantine of 14 days was suggested for those signing on and it was made sure that they all tested negative for COVID. Safe distancing measures were adopted and face masks and sanitizers were provided.
Those signing off were asked to produce a doctor’s certificate to prove that they were fit for travelling. Crew and service technicians took separate passenger boats for travelling to and fro. They too were provided with fresh facemasks and hand sanitizers.
Singapore government and MPA has done a highly commendable job by showing the world that crew exchanges are crucial and are possible even when the industry is worse hit by the pandemic.
In India, the protocol implementing is under process and is believed to be enacted very soon. The ship managing giant, Fleet management Limited is arranging for crew exchanges, keeping in mind the wellbeing of seafarers and global challenges. The crewing department is working selflessly to manage crew exchange. They have even launched a counselling facility for helping its employees in times of distress.
Reference: Straitstimes/ Seatrade-maritime