Continued instances of seafarers returning to Singapore with COVID-19 symptoms have raised concern as the country opens up operations to aid repatriation and crew change following pressure from the industry.
The Singapore Shipping Association is worried about the rising cases among the crew arriving, thereby warning that a complete shutdown of crew change operations would be initiated if shipping companies/manning operators do not take safety protocols and isolation seriously.
Reporting that “alarmingly the crews, upon arrival, projected severe high temperatures, which also prompted further actions in contact tracing. This has led to some 15-20 other persons having to be contacted/quarantined for further checks,” the SSA has also added that they can notice a clear and present pattern of non-compliance with the crew change regulations as suggested by the Maritime Port Authority (MPA).
Singapore has drawn criticism owing to its restrictions. It has currently only opened crew change as a concession to the industry in its effort to recognize the importance and responsibility as an international maritime center. It, however, gives incoming crew just 48 hours to look for a flight after a test is conducted, rather than after receiving results.
To continue maintaining these efforts, the association insists that agencies and operators must demonstrate diligence and best practices by ensuring self-isolation and keeping track of the crew. The company must also be fully oriented with the Singapore Crew change procedures.
Kuba Szymanski, secretary-general of Intermanager, however, holds a different opinion stating that “There is absolutely no appreciation of the difficulty this rule creates but also their approach is everything but human-centric”
Szymanski said that officials in Singapore (and Dubai) have less than concrete action to help crew repatriation in these troubling times.
India has also opened doors to crew change with new protocols issued for foreign seafarers from the ports. It includes the facility to issue visas, testing, quarantine, luggage disinfection, and clearance procedures.
Current estimates show over 300,000 stranded seafarers at sea with pending sign-offs while another 300,000 onshore await to embark operations to start earning again. This progress can be deterred soon if facilitation operations only seem to accelerate the crisis rather than working around it.