The Kerala Steamer Agents Association has requested the Directorate General of Shipping to resume crew change operations at the outer harbour of Kochi and Vizhinjam ports, as it would hit trade otherwise.

The association’s president M Krishnakumar said the crew change facility at the outer harbour of Kochi port has, since May 15, 2020, handled 1,081 ships, 18,159 seafarers, 9,620 crew sign-ins and 8,839 sign-offs. The total number of operations was 1,168.

During Covid, when the overall shipping business saw a downturn, the trade stabilised to a good extent through the crew change service. Besides creating employment opportunities, the service also supported the hotel and tourism industry, he said.

During the pandemic, “our members risked their lives and came forward to support the government initiative”, Krishnakumar said. The steamer agents had, in close coordination with Cochin Port officials, Cochin Seaport Immigration, Cochin Customs, Port health authorities, and Kerala and Central government officials, worked hard to facilitate trade at Kochi and Vizhinjam, he said.

Prakash Iyer, chairman of Cochin Port Users Forum, said there was no specific mention of cancelling sing-on/off procedures in outer anchorage but only relaxation of Covid-related protocols. The crew change service enables Indian seafarers save time and money by avoiding sign-on/off at other ports such as Colombo, Dubai or Singapore.  “If we avoid rendering such service, the business opportunity will go to Fujairah or any other international ports,” he added.