Thirteen leading maritime nations joined the growing number of states allowing crew changes by signing a pact for exemptions in port controls and more commercial flights to accommodate thousands of exhausted seafarers stuck on board ships around the world.
More than 200,000 seafarers are stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts with another 200,000 waiting to start employment and get paid by working at sea.
The 13 countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the UK, United Arab Emirates, and the US – now recognise seafarers as key workers.
A demand proposed by Cyprus and other maritime hubs when the strict lockdown measures were imposed in March.
As ‘key workers’, seafarers would be in the same category as front-line workers in the health and security services of any country, as well as professionals employed in utilities, necessary to keep an economy functioning.
A source at the Deputy Ministry of Shipping said that Cyprus was not among the signatories because it had already adopted crew-change protocols ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit global shipping and Covid-19 travel restrictions were put in place, preventing crews from disembarking.
This was confirmed by an official at the Cyprus Shipping Chamber who said the flag state was among the first to demand and implemented measures allowing crew changes.
“We don’t have many airports to accommodate commercial flights to expedite repatriation efforts, nor is Cyprus a major labour supplier.
However, as a leading hub with Cyprus-owned or managed ships, we had been calling for the relaxation of strict controls on seafarers around the world,” CSC Director General Thomas Kazakos told the Financial Mirror.
The Chamber, whose members employ up to 60,000 seafarers onboard their vessels around the world, had called on governments to follow the example of Cyprus and facilitate crew changes, issuing a statement saying it was disappointed over global delays.
The initiative for the international crew change summit convened in London on Thursday came from the UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps, according to news reports.
“It is unacceptable that there remain thousands of people stranded at ports around the world and we owe it to them and their families to change things,” Shapps said at the summit.
“Today marks a new chapter for seafarers and alongside our international partners we are taking, a stand to end the bureaucracy preventing men and women around the world from returning home.”
All need to make visa, quarantine, and border exceptions for seafarers now, not tomorrow, not next week, he said.
“This summit is a welcome show of political leadership at a time when seafarers across the world need it most,” said Guy Platten, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping.
“Governments must now use this summit as a catalyst to implement with the solutions the shipping industry has provided, applying the political will needed to put them into practice.
This issue doesn’t require money and did not need complicated negotiations. This summit is a catalyst for action.”
According to the shipping news site, Splash 247.com, the International Maritime Organisation has created a 12-step process for states to adopt to make crew changes safe and efficient.
Reacting to the news from the keenly anticipated summit, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) called on the governments to act swiftly to give seafarers visa, border and quarantine exemptions to make crew changes possible and resolve the present crisis.
“Governments today adopted a statement pledging to urgently take forward a range of actions to avert the global crisis that is unfolding at sea for the more than 200,000 seafarers who are trapped working on ships beyond their contracts, and desperately wanting to return home,” said ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton.
“After months of this crew change crisis getting worse, governments must do their bit.
“That means that port states where ships dock; flag states where ships are registered; transit hubs with airports; and the home countries of seafarers, all need to make visa, quarantine and border exceptions for seafarers now, not tomorrow, not next week.”