PR: ESC and GSA appeal to the authorities to urgently facilitate crew changes

Brussels-As representatives of cargo owners, we appeal to the authorities – the International Maritime Organization, the European Commission, and national governments – to urgently facilitate crew changes so that supply chains can remain intact through the crisis.

Almost every part of the globe has felt the destructive force of COVID 19 pandemic. Around 90% of the total volume of international trade is transported using the maritime modes (deepsea and shortsea). Seafarers have been at the forefront of the crisis from its very outset performing a vital role in keeping goods moving around the planet, including the medical supplies and medicines vital to fight the pandemic. Yet, seafarers risk being abandoned by governments that have failed to recognise their essential work and put in place measures necessary to allow them to safely leave their ships to rest and be relieved by colleagues.

A lack of seafarers means simply that ships eventually won’t sail and if ships don’t sail the supply chains upon which we all depend will begin to seize up. That will directly impact our quality of life as the consumer goods and essential supplies that we need stop arriving. We cannot let that happen at a time when the recovery from the COVID pandemic is in such a critical state.

It is vital for global trade and is vital that quality of life can be returned to the crew members still at sea – and their families – in the midst of this pandemic.

This is not a choice between public health and facilitating crew changes. Relative to the total number of people still crossing borders worldwide, 300,000 seafarers is a small but vital number of people whose cross-border mobility needs to be facilitated in order to keep global commerce moving.

Guidance on measures to be taken by operators and authorities so that crew changes can be effected safely have been promulgated by the International Maritime Organization. Many governments have backed these measures and pledged to solve the crew change crisis at an International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes on 9 July 2020 in London.

Governments there pledged to implement the following measures which we call on others to introduce urgently too:

designate seafarers as essential workers regardless of nationality and allow them unfettered movement across borders under conditions that safeguard health.  They should be exempt from travel restrictions including quarantine provided the correct protocols are followed.
ensure that seafarers are able to join and leave their ships for repatriation, crew changes, shore leave, and medical attention without impediment.

facilitate and prioritise visa issuing for seafarers so that relief crew can travel  from their home countries to take over the duties of their colleagues wherever their ship are berthed.
create the necessary conditions for seafarer air corridors that allow seafarers to travel to and from the locations across the world where they are due to disembark or join ships.

Over 300,000 seafarers currently need to be relieved and this number rises with every week that passes. This is, first and foremost, a humanitarian crisis. Some of these seafarers have now spent 15 months or more continuously on board. Crew changes are only happening today at a rate of 30% of what is needed. This has severe consequences for the safety and physical and mental health of seafarers, in addition to the safety of ship operations.

It goes without saying that it is also important to ensure proper safety measures to be in place. We should, therefore, urge the governments and institutions to provide more statistics, for example, test result statistics of disembarking and ship-joining crews in order to take away the anxiety of populations fearing that crewmembers might spread the virus.

However, it is also a pending crisis for functioning global supply chains. As companies that buy and sell the goods that move on ships, we realize how important maritime connections are for world trade.

The Global Shippers’ Alliance, the European Shippers’ Council, and the individual national shippers’ councils stand ready to explain further and support the need for a solution.