Six months on, what have we learned about the crew change crisis?
During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the subject of crew changes in the shipping industry was front-page news. Stories of seafarers stuck at sea, unable to get home were plenty. We read that the consequences of the inability to perform scheduled crew changes included disruption of supply chains and increased operating and logistics costs, not to mention the risks to crew health and safety standards. Here at breakbulk.news, we covered the subject in this three-part article.
Fast-forward six months and the subject seems to have drifted out of the mainstream news cycle. Do not think for one moment, however, that crew changes are back to normal. On the contrary, the IMO recently announced that 400,000 seafarers are currently stranded on ships around the world. These men and women have no choice but to keep on working, with the prospect of getting home to their families a distant point on the horizon. The situation is so dismal that the IMO has described it as a humanitarian crisis that has the potential to threaten global trade and maritime safety.
We went back to two of the companies that we had spoken to for the first article (ship management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, and crew recruitment and management company ORCA Crew Services) to get an impression of how they are coping with the ongoing crew change crisis.
Acting fast to reduce costs
“Like many other ship managers, we are still facing challenges in conducting crew changes,” says Ian Beveridge, CEO of the Schulte Group. “With every day that passes, the health and safety of overdue seafarers are therefore being put at risk, and only governments can help to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis.”
Angela Ibarra, Manager Operations at ORCA Crew Services points to the fact that, now the pandemic is entering a second wave, borders are closing once again and compulsory quarantines are being enforced. “This results in challenging logistic operations. In this business, we have to act fast and due to the travel restrictions and quarantine- and COVID-test requirements, which are changing on a weekly or even daily basis, the logistic operations take more time than usual and bring extra costs.”
Given that most airlines are requesting that travellers are able to show a negative test result during check-in, the organisation of smooth crew changes can be further hampered by delayed results from testing centres. “These are quite stressful moments for the vessel owner, contractor and employee, with flights needing to be rebooked,” she notes.
The impact on (mental) health
As the world experiences the second wave of the coronavirus, the global shipping industry is feeling the consequences. Here is Ian Beveridge describing the extent of the impact: “Despite our best efforts, there is still a significant number of seafarers waiting for their relief. Now that we see a rapid rise in coronavirus infections in many countries, it will become riskier and much more difficult to bring on-signers on board their designated vessel. Thus, the crew change crisis is still having a tremendous impact on the health of our seafarers as well as on the safety of our business operations.” He notes that the issue of health also includes mental health: “Many of our seafarers are enduring prolonged separation from their families as they fight fatigue and cope with the anxiety from not knowing when they can return home.”
A call to governments around the world
Asked what her message to governments around the world would be, Angela Ibarra appeals for a more stable approach to policy-making. “Because government restrictions are constantly changing, it is difficult to tackle the issues in the long-term. However, we try to anticipate and act even faster than ever.” As such, she calls for governments “to communicate in a transparent way which new restrictions will be implemented at each stage of contamination. Similar to the Irish national framework for living with COVID-19.”
Ian Beveridge takes this opportunity to renew Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement’s call on governments to bring an immediate end to the crew change crisis. “With a second wave hitting many countries these days, we are close to approaching a breaking point, and a universal approach is more important than ever. Like nurses and teachers, seafarers must be granted key worker status by all governments worldwide and be treated with the respect they deserve. Because when global trade stops, everything else does as well. That is why we ask governments for more crew change opportunities by establishing safe travel corridors, easing visa restrictions and offering uninterrupted air connections.”
TELL US YOUR EXPERIENCES
The story is not over; the coronavirus is still impacting life and business all around the world. That’s why we want to give you the opportunity to tell your story too.
How is your company handling crew changes during the pandemic? Do you have any great solutions to share with the industry? Maybe you are a crewmember, and you want to tell the world what life is like in on board. Whatever the case, we are interested in hearing from you. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Alternatively, you can post your opinions and experiences (in complete anonymity) on our Chatham Chats forum.