IMO steps in as crew changeovers on ships tests fleet owners amidst coronavirus scare

P Manoj Mumbai. April 01 | Updated on April 01, 2020 Published on April 01, 2020

As crew changeovers on ships globally becomes a casualty of the safety protocols to combat the spread of coronavirus, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has urged governments and relevant national authorities to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality when in their jurisdiction, as "key workers" providing an “essential service”.

In a circular letter issued by the United Nations-body that regulates global shipping, the IMO has called on governments and relevant national authorities around the globe “to grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships”.

The official seafarers' identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer, should be accepted as evidence of being a professional seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes.

Further, professional seafarers and marine personnel should be permitted to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.

Appropriate approval and screening protocols should be implemented for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.

The IMO has also strongly encouraged governments “to ensure that all visiting commercial ships continue to have access to berths in ports and terminals, and that quarantine restrictions are not imposed on the ship itself which prevent access to a berth and the timely discharge and/or loading of cargoes or other critical activities”, the IMO circular stated.

“We must also remember the hundreds of thousands of seafarers on ships. They are, unwittingly, on the front line of this global calamity. Their professionalism ensures that the goods we all need are delivered – safely and with minimal impact on our precious environment. These are people, usually far from home and family. Their own health and welfare is as important as that of anyone else,” IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said.

India, one of the world’s top supplier of crew to the global shipping industry, has more than 210,000 seafarers of which close to 190,000 are employed on foreign flagged ships.

Typically, some 100,000 crew changes happen a month globally, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, the world’s largest shipping organisation. But, such changes are posing a huge challenge to ship owners and manning agents as ports across the globe ban such movements to slow the spread of the pandemic.

"In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and foodstuffs, will be central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic. It is, therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted”, Lim said while urging a practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.

Published on April 01, 2020

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