Part 2 of 3: The Response from an industry that has mustered together.
After reading about the massive impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crew logistics from several ship management and crew recruitment companies, you would be forgiven for thinking that the situation was perilous and close to breaking point.
In case you missed it, read part one here.
However, our conversations with these very same companies also show that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Solutions are being found, crews are getting home, and supply of vital goods continues.
Many of these solutions have been facilitated by international maritime organisations representing seafarers’ rights. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the World Shipping Council (WSC) are examples praised by Schulte Group CEO Ian Beveridge. “They have done their utmost to find solutions to enable crew changes and support overdue seafarers during these difficult times.”
Hiding from the reality
Other notable efforts have been initiated by WHO, CDC, BIMCO, International SoS, NEPIA, ISWAN, Mind Call by ISWAN and North P&I club, Mission to Seafarers, Sailor’s Society, Seahealth & Welfare, Apostles of the Sea, says Frank Coles, CEO of the Wallem Group. This has been in stark contrast to the inaction “in the form of the ostrich attitude from the majority of countries who do not want to see and confront the major economic crisis in the making, and getting worse by not restoring the crew change plan.”
Thankfully for seafarers, Coles goes on to state that not all governments have buried their heads in the sand. On the contrary, “the governments of Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, US, and the EU have showed rest of the world that, despite challenges, safe crew changes are possible.”
This list of supportive governments should include Poland, according to Ian Livingstone, Managing Director of Clyde Marine Recruitment. “For one of our significant clients we chartered two flights from the Baltics to Shetland in order to successfully complete a crew change. This had its own unique challenges – Shetland weather and the Polish Prime Minister’s office approval to use Gdansk airport.”
No matter how appreciated the high-level support from policy makers, the personal touch can often help the most (especially when you consider the low morale and risk to mental health mentioned in part one of this article).
Support for those crews trapped in limbo doesn’t only involve the input from an organisational level. The dedicated actions of individuals can go a long way to boosting morale and letting crews know that they are not alone. Here is BSM’s Ian Beveridge on the subject: “For seafarers who are unable to leave their ships, BSM continues to support them by providing open lines of communication via our Seafarer app, access to hotlines and blogs, ISWAN and chaplain services. We also provide cash advances to seafarers who are delayed in joining their assigned ship and are experiencing financial difficulties. We firmly believe that seafarers should be classified as ‘key workers’, allowing them to travel to and from their assigned vessel.”
Support from home
Streamlining the travel to the vessel (or passage home) is another valued action carried out by support staff. ORCA Crew Services’ Manager Operations Angela Ibarra explains the process of sending a team of 18 employees with different nationalities to an offshore windfarm in Taiwan. “After delays and cancelled flights, we had to look for other last-minute possibilities. We decided to gather the crew in Amsterdam and send them on a large tour bus, with at least a few metres distance from each other, to Paris, where they could take the flight to Taiwan.” This process required a significant amount of paperwork as well as contact with Belgian and French border controls to make sure they could cross the borders into France before their flight.
ORCA’s efforts also extend to supporting crews in quarantine. It is during these (mostly two-week) periods – often cooped up in the confines of a hotel room or government facility – that outside support is most welcome. Here Ibarra talks about getting emergency provisions to a group of employees in quarantine in South Korea. “That was a mental challenge for our crew and stressful for us, as we tried everything in our power to have the provisions delivered as soon as possible. When the provisions arrived, the crew were extremely grateful and we could breathe again.”
Bright ideas for the future
After hearing these stories of practical assistance and support, it is clear that maritime companies have learned a lot during the coronavirus pandemic. That is why, with one cautious eye on the prospect of a second outbreak, we asked them for their most important ‘lessons learned’. What policies should be put in place to prevent a repeat of today’s crew change chaos? We’ll be covering that in part 3.