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Intercargo: Crew Change Dilemma is "Reaching Farcical Proportions";

Intercargo: Crew Change Dilemma is "Reaching Farcical Proportions"

Seafarer health screening at the Port of Singapore before the COVID-19 shutdown, January 2020 (PSA) Seafarer health screening at the Port of Singapore before the COVID-19 shutdown, January 2020 (PSA)

As efforts to resume crew change proceed in fits and starts in ports around the world, bulker trade association Intercargo raised a warning Monday that the situation is becoming untenable for seafarers and shipowners.

According to the association, the main obstacles for crew change are 1) finding commercial air travel between the crew source countries and port states; and 2) a lack of commitment from port states' health and immigration authorities to facilitate seafarer travel.

“The situation is reaching farcical proportions," says Dimitris Fafalios, the association's chairman. "We have seen crew changes refused because a COVID test could not be carried out within the prescribed 48-hour window before the crew’s arrival, despite the journey to the port taking three days. In some other countries which claim to allow crew change, in fact this happens only if crew can be replaced with the country’s nationals.”

Intercargo reports that about 35-40 percent of the seafarers on cargo ships are over their contracts and 10 percent have been on board for more than a year - a technical violation of the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC).

"This is inhumane and countries should bear full responsibility for it. Some governments are not facilitating the crew change even for their own citizens. This includes imposing all possible restrictions on crew change in their home country, restricting flights and applying policies which do not allow seafarers to fly to foreign countries to join ships," said Jay K. Pillai, Intercargo's vice-chairman. "More and more countries are prohibiting crew change, though they welcome the cargoes the ships bring to support the welfare of their society."

Intercargo's warning comes as some Asian port states backtrack on reopening their borders to seafarers, imposing more stringent conditions for entry. In June, Hong Kong lifted a requirement for prearrival COVID-19 testing, but it reimposed it effective July 10. Arriving seafarers must now obtain a PCR test with a negative result within 48 hours prior to departure from their place of embarkation. If a seafarer arrives without acceptable test results, it is the company's responsibility to make arrangements for the person to return to their country of origin. Singapore has also tightened up its transit policies again, imposing a 14-day pre-departure self quarantine requirement for arriving crew and giving priority to Singaporean ships and outbound crew only.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) recently called on all shipowners to adhere strictly to crew change protocols, citing alarming reports of ship managers and individuals failing to comply with national guidelines - including reports of seafarers arriving in Singapore with COVID-19 symptoms. “The industry cannot afford to lose the faith and support of governments. The irresponsible actions of a small minority could potentially lead to the shutdown of crew change processes at important shipping hubs, impacting the vast majority of seafarers and shipowners who are acting in accordance with the protocols," ICS said.

Crew change still isn’t working
July 27, 2020

James Wilkes from Gray Page urges the IMO to set up multiple virtual flying squads of advisors and experts to help port states implement crew change protocols.

“Labour isn’t working” was the slogan of a political advertisement devised by adverting agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the UK Conservative Party in 1978.

It showed a snaking line of hundreds of people queuing outside an ‘unemployment office’.

Unemployment was then at a post-war high and the ad was run in anticipation that the Labour prime minister at the time, James Callaghan, would call a general election. He did a year later, after losing a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the wake of the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

The slogan was modified for the Conservative’s general election campaign to say, “Labour still isn’t working”.

The Conservatives won that election and in 1979 Margret Thatcher became the UK’s first female prime minister.

Giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions

The advertising campaign was credited with winning the election for the Conservatives and in 1999 the poster voted the “Best Poster of the Century”, such was its perceived impact.

The irony of the campaign was that an unemployment rate of 5 to 6% wasn’t that high. It has remained at that level or above in the UK since then.

But it does show what a single powerful message can achieve when it gets traction in the public’s mind.

A single powerful message that gets public attention was the objective behind the #blowyourhorn Twitter campaign that I started in anger on June 23, to highlight the crew change crisis that had been building for months and wasn’t getting noticed, never mind resolved.

Despite the campaign, which was subsequently adopted and adapted by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as well as some shipping companies and maritime organisations.

Despite the International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes convened by the UK government on July 9, the situation isn’t getting better.

Crew change still isn’t working.

If the figures released by the ICS are correct, over half a million seafarers are now impacted by the crew change crisis.

250,000 seafarers remain trapped on ships, with little or no prospect of paying-off and going home to their families and loved ones.

250,000 seafarers can’t travel to ships to take up their contracts, sign-on and start working.

It is not just that crew change still isn’t working, it’s getting worse.

Now is the time for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other shipping industry bodies have to make a decision.

Continue lobbying and campaigning in the same vein and, on the current evidence, in vain.

Or adapt and do something.

One idea I’ve had – and floated on Twitter, which is how I’ve ended up writing this – is for the IMO to set up multiple virtual ‘flying squads’ of advisors and experts who will help individual port states get aligned with, and implement, the Recommended Framework of Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel.

You see, giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions.

Whenever I purchase anything that comes with operating instructions, if I read the instructions at all I will only get as far as the “quick start menu”. I’m convinced – as most men are – that if I need to know anything after that, I’ll be able to work it out by trial and error.

However, the crew change crisis is too profound a problem to be trying to solve it by trial and error. If the Recommended Framework is a “quick start menu”, it isn’t starting anything, let alone quickly.

So my suggestion to the IMO is to pick the top 5 or 10 port states by usual volume of crew change, provide a flying squad for each of those port state who will help systematise the process, de-bureaucratise it, identify the barriers to making it happen and remove them.

Then measure success by the actual volume of crew changes taking place, rather than what port states are claiming is possible.

I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but if there is no concerted intervention by the IMO, no different solution to what’s happening now, the crisis will only deepen.

Failing that, another idea is to engage a global advertising agency and have them produce a billboard poster with the slogan “Crew Change Isn’t Working”.

Then buy up all the billboard space around the government offices in each major port state, and run it – until crew change is working.

At the same time, every ship in every port should sound its whistle at noon local time, every day – until crew change is working.

For the sake of all seafarers, it’s time to be controversial.

To demand attention.

To get noticed.

To be effective.

Like all the greatest advertising campaigns have been.