Industry lashes out over coronavirus-related seafarer treatment
The maritime industry is frustrated by the treatment of seafarers who are left stranded on board of their ships as a consequence of the coronavirus. Travel restrictions are hampering crew changes causing logistical difficulties and a huge spike in calls at iCall, a free and anonymous psychological helpline for maritime crew.
With countries around the globe issuing new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, signing on and off ships is becoming increasingly difficult. Some countries and ports, like China, Singapore, Spain, Panama and Portugal, are denying crew members to set foot ashore if their vessel has called in certain countries in the past few weeks. This is complicating crew changes and as a result, crew members face prolonged stays on board.
CEO Bjorn Hojgaard of ship and crew manager Anglo-Eastern voiced his frustration about this development on Twitter today, calling the measures unfair and harmful to supply chains.
“With all the travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, how do airline crew manage? Well, they are exempt… which poses the question: Why are the world’s merchant marine crew not also exempt? Supply chains are vital to the world; we must allow seafarers to sign on/off freely”, Hojgaard said.
Hojgaard is not alone in his criticism. Shipping agency Seaport Agencies also voiced its concerns about crew changes and added that the new rules also complicate technical ship management services.
With all the travel restrictions/quarantine requirements, how do airline crew manage? Well, they are exempt… which poses the question: Why are the world’s merchant marine crew not also exempt? Supply chains are vital to the world; we must allow seafarers to sign on/off freely.
— Bjorn Hojgaard (@bjornhojgaard) March 16, 2020
Authorities in #Panama have suspended the processing of #Seamans entry #Visas until further notice. It will directly impact the #shippingindustry crew changes and any technical services arranged to vessel owners / managers. #COVIDー19 #maritime #Panamacanal #Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/qJa1HDLTPA
— Seaport Agencies (@SeaportAgencies) March 15, 2020
To still be able to change crews, some shipping companies divert their vessels to smaller, intermediate ports where crew changes sometimes are still possible.
Seafarers under pressure
Seafarers themselves are also struggling with the new policies as many of them face prolonged stays on board. This has resulted in a huge spike of calls at iCall, a free and confidential psychological helpline for the worldwide maritime community.
“We had a forty per cent jump in messages and calls in February and coronavirus is an issue”, says Dr Aparna Joshi, Director of iCALL. “We’ve now added a fifteenth counsellor to ensure all seafarers and their families receive the help and support they need.”
The virus has seen severe restrictions put in place on seafarers calling at ports across the Asia Pacific region. Among the countries with restrictions are China, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia, Australia and South Korea.
To help shipping companies and forwarders with their logistical challenges, Norwegian shipping company Wilhelmsen has created a map which shows which ports have restrictions in place.