Singapore opens port for crew changes

Singapore has opened its port for crew changes, answering the call of the shipping industry. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, many ports prohibited crew changes leaving seafarers stuck on their ships and putting extra pressure on shipping companies and global trade. 

In a circular released on Friday, the MPA states it will now allow seafarers to join and leave vessels under special conditions, for example, when the crew member has served his/her maximum time on board, when there are compassionate grounds like the death of a family member, or when the crew member is no longer medically fit to work onboard the ship.

Shipping companies do have to give assurance that ‘the signing on and/or signing off crew has been well for the last 14 days before joining or leaving the ship and has not been in contact with a known or suspect case of Covid-19 in those 14 days.’

Time bomb

Under normal conditions, about 100,000 seafarers leave or join a ship every month but since the outbreak of the coronavirus, many ports limited or prohibited crew changes in attempts to prevent the virus from spreading.

Shipping companies and trade associations condemned the policies saying that seafarers are vital to keeping global trade moving. They urged governments to treat seafarers the same as airline personnel, which are exempt from certain travel barriers.

CEO Rajesh Unni of Singapore-based ship manager Synergy Group, which employs around 12,000 seafares on 300 ships, last week called for collectively managed crew changes to tackle what he called a time bomb.

“In many ports, crew changes are simply prohibited”, Unni said. “Elsewhere, vessels from some origins are forced to remain at anchorage for up to 14 days before they can dock.” He also warned that it is becoming increasingly difficult for ships to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables as agents are denied access to the ships. “This is a time bomb”, Unni said.

Solution

In an effort to resolve the issue, Unni jas initiated steps to jointly manage crew changes in selected ports. “I believe that collective, carefully managed crew changes at designated ports could help us tackle this crisis. Seafarers returning home would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period, of course. And those joining ships would need to pass a mandatory medical, including a Covid-19 test”, he said.

Unni is reaching out to like-minded stakeholders and said he has already spoken to a number of leading shipowners who agree this is a positive way forward. “We have also identified a number of ports where we think this can be actioned”, Unni said in a statement released on Thursday, March 26, the day before the MPA announced its new policy.

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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