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Seafarer repatriation is industry’s top priority

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has announced it has endorsed new protocols designed to lift barriers to crew changes, as the need for crew repatriation is of the utmost urgency.

Following its meeting on 30 April the IMO reported that the need for ships to change crews and for seafarers to fly home at the end of their periods of service have emerged as two of the biggest challenges facing the shipping industry as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, large numbers of seafarers are having to extend their service on board ships after many months at sea, unable to be replaced or repatriated after long tours of duty, while in a regular base, each month, about 150,000 seafarers need to be changed over, to and from the ships they operate, to ensure international maritime regulations for safety, crew health and welfare, and preventing fatigue are complied with.

These extended stays on board could have significant repercussions for crew wellbeing as well as for ship operations, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) said.

This is considered unsustainable, both for the safety and wellbeing of seafarers and the safe operation of maritime trade, added the IMO.

It is for these reasons that Lim has endorsed a series of protocols designed to address these issues and help seafarers during this crisis period.

The wide-ranging protocols contain recommendations to maritime administrations and other relevant national authorities such as health, customs, immigration, border control, seaport and civil aviation authorities. They address the roles of shipping companies, agents and representatives, including crew agencies and seafarers, and extend to seaports, airports and airlines involved in travel operations for ship crew changes.

IMO Secretary-General Lim said he supports these protocols and urges their implementation. The full text is contained in a circular letter issued by IMO. It invites the organisation's member states and international organisations to use the protocols and to disseminate them among relevant national authorities.

At the same time, Cyprus has issued a statement in support of seafarers with a formal crew changeover process. The Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry (SDM) announced new practical processes to support the shipping industry to manage Covid-related challenges.

Crew changes for vessels are possible in Cyprus provided certain conditions are met. The relevant decrees issued by the Ministry of Health also permit the long-term stay in anchorage of vessels, including cruise ships (warm lay-up).

The main conditions under which crew changes are permitted include the following:

  1. Isolation: People arriving in Cyprus by aeroplane have been subject to self-isolation conditions for 14 days before their arrival; and
  2. Negative coronavirus test: People arriving in Cyprus by aeroplane have been subjected to a PCR-based coronavirus test either in the country they are in or, if not possible, in Cyprus upon their arrival.
  3. Logistics management: The company or agent arranging the crew change is entirely responsible for arranging the transfer of all seafarers from the vessel to the airport and from the airport to the vessel, taking all the necessary precautions. If the times of arrival of the ship and the aeroplane do not coincide, or if the PCR-based test results are still pending, the company or agent will need to make arrangements in coordination with governmental authorities for the crew to remain in isolation at a designated address until the time of their departure. Where possible, seafarers should stay onboard the vessel during this period.

These new measures are in addition to existing deadline extensions granted by Cyprus. To support seafarers, deadlines for Certificates of Competency, Certificates of Proficiency, Medical Fitness Certificates, Seafarer’s Identification, and Sea Service Record Books have been extended under specific conditions and where safety is not compromised.

Natasa Pilides says that seafarers are suffering unable to return home.

Natasa Pilides, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister, stated, “Seafarers are suffering under the current circumstances, impacted by extended contracts and unable to return home due to closed borders and cancelled flights."

"In coordination with the Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry and the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Health has introduced a formal process to ensure continuity of trade and the well-being of our key workers," he continued.

Antonis Karamalegkos
Editor

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