Global Shipping In Turmoil As India’s COVID Surge Affects Crew Change

The global shipping industry has been facing unprecedented turmoil as crew shortages rock the industry as India reels under the second wave of the pandemic. Countries around the world like Singapore have put crew changes on hold in India and have stopped employing people with recent travel history to India. Not just that, ports have been turning away Indian crews as the disease spreads and vaccines get delayed.

Globally, the shipping industry has been heavily relying on Indian seafarers to keep things going. Now that the infection has been accelerating in the country they have no other choice but to stop recruiting them, a pandemic fallout they never expected.

Many ports like Singapore, Fujairah etc have prevented ships with a recent history of travelling in India from entering the ports. China’s Zhoushan has banned both ships and crew which have visited India and Bangladesh in the last 3 months, revealed Wilhelmsen Ship Management.

Angria - offshore crew change transit hub
Representation Image – Credits:

Meanwhile, industry experts have raised an alarm bell by revealing that crew from India have been testing COVID positive despite testing negative while boarding and quarantining.

Synergy Marine Group’s CEO, Rajesh Unni have underlined the gravity of the situation when he stated that unlike last year when 1-2 was getting infected now the whole ship is getting infected as the virus is spreading quickly.

As of Wednesday, India had new 410,000 infections and 4000 deaths in the last 24 hours. They have broken all records of the COVID surge and the healthcare system is facing an overwhelming situation.

Recently, a cargo ship with 14 Filipino crew who have come from India tested positive in Durban and now the whole ship has been put into quarantine. A chief engineer of the ship had died because of a non-COVID heart attack.

Together with the Philippines and China, India has the largest source of seafarers in the world. The country has to supply 240,000 seafarers every year.

Experts have warned such a widespread ban on crew change in South East Asia, especially India, Bangladesh and Pakistan could send shockwaves in the maritime industry that controls 80% of global trade.

Many have warned that the upcoming supply chain disruption because of this will be nothing compared to the Suez Canal blockage disruption.

Last year, 400,000 seafarers had been stranded at sea because of COVID restrictions which have improved since then. But the new surge in global cases, especially in India, is likely to be more devastating.

Miles Bruus, the HR head of Maersk reiterated this when he said that we can retrace back to the 2020 situation if travel restrictions continue.

Wilhelmsen CEO Carl Schou has revealed that the situation has turned worse which he says is an understatement. His company has to source seafarers from India. Nearly 15% of them, 10,000 seafarers come from India.

But they have now stopped all crew changes in India till May end. The country’s health system has collapsed resulting in delays in test reports, revealed Schou.

The German crew management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement which hires Indian crew have replaced them with seafarers from other nations.

Many shipping executives have blamed IMO for their slow pace efforts of securing vaccines for seafarers who have to be prioritized in every country’s vaccination program.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, Abdulgani Serang had acknowledged this catastrophic bureaucratic and political failure when he said revealed that the world has collectively failed the seafarers.


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