Canada has joined the group of nations who respond to the calls of desperate seafarers and finally emerged as a crew change hub when private and public sectors came together to make the seafarers movement far easier.
The hopeful and positive news came from Canada, where travel restrictions still prevail, immediately after Hong Kong has decided to allow crew changes in its waters. Hong Kong Ship Owners Association (HKSOA) collaborated with local authorities to lift restrictions regarding crew transfer.
Singapore has also done a commendable job in crew exchange. The government arranged for three chartered flights for the safe deployment of the crew to and from the ship.
Covid-19 protocols were made by Transport Canada- Canada’s chamber of shipping along with a local chapter of ITF (International Transport Workers Federation). The newly revised visa process to obtain entry visas for foreign seafarers is soon to get published and will be enacted soon.
Crew transfer will take place under this protocol and will connect ship, airport and hotels. Joiners, as well as leavers, do not require quarantine. However certain nationalities require visa clearance.
To speed up the issuance a 2 step process of an online application, as well as email verification, is initiated.
As step one, the crew members should apply online to get temporary resident visas (TRVs). Step 2 involves contacting Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada [IRCC] via a dedicated email address where they need to indicate the non-discretionary purpose of their travel.
In the final step, they will receive intimation from IRCC giving the status of their application, whether it is approved or rejected. Thus there is no need for a seafarer to visit a Canadian consulate for the visa.
The expedited visa processing and subsequent crew exchange is a cumbersome process. The major aim is to get the stranded crew ashore.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are about 2, 00,000 seafarers stranded all over the world. Guy Ryder, Director-General ILO is of the opinion that making the seafarers work beyond their contract period is not advisable and that it may endanger the safety and jeopardize their health. He also called for actions to ensure employment for seafarers, safe crew exchanges and to avoid environmental disasters and maritime accidents.
Still, there are many other countries to respond and address the restrictions. Similar actions are required to be enacted all over the world for successfully facilitating crew exchanges and ease the burden on fellow seafarers. Addressing the issue of seafarers in a humanitarian approach is the collective need of maritime associations, ship owners and shipping organizations.