The COVID crisis is not ending for the maritime industry anytime soon. This crisis continues to cause several major issues to cargo lines, cruise lines and large yachts. Vessels and their management companies are plagued by the inability to carry out the required crew change. There are some ports that allow crew change outs under several restrictions, however the rules in each country appear to change daily. We’ve been covering this issues on our VLOGs since the COVID-19 pandemic started earlier this year (click here for the video). Shipboard crews and their shore side fleet managers now have access to this critical information on delays, quarantines, restrictions and closures through the ARMS software platform.
Crew Change Port Restrictions
Part of the crisis is the ability to get crew on and off the boat in their different ports of call. The larger ports in the world have wide ranging rules on how to facilitate crew changes. The port may allow the change-out on paper, but the restrictions are so onerous that it isn’t worth the time, energy and expense to actually try and make it happen. It is easy for crew members to make change outs in their home countries, however very few crew members on cargo ships, large yachts and cruise ships touch their home country during a typical transit. Currently it is straightforward for EU crew members to change out in EU ports, but very difficult for non-EU residents to change out in EU ports. The same is true for Asia and the United States.
The second part of the crisis is the ability to get flights to and from the port destination. Most countries during the height of the pandemic closed their borders. This closure resulted in the reduction of international flights by as high as 95% in some locations. Some of that capacity has slowly returned. However, it is currently very difficult to get flights in and out of most countries. There are also flight restrictions that make it almost impossible to fly in and through certain transit countries without a negative COVID 19 PCR test or quarantine. The issue of flight available is now more onerous than the ability to make crew change outs happen in various ports.
Most shipboard contracts don’t allow crew members to work onboard a ship for more than 11 months, but that contractual limit has been breached in numerous cases around the world even violating MLC regulations. There are still thousands of crew members stranded onboard cruise ships. Back in May there were over 21 cruise ships anchored in Manila harbor waiting to repatriate crew members. That number is down to two today. Cruise lines have repositioned ships based on their future potential schedules and locations that can easily facilitate provisions and crew transfers. There are also thousands of seafarers stranded onboard cargo vessels around the world without the ability to change out. This has caused an exponential increase in crew member mental health issues, depression, and even in extreme cases suicide. A number of NGO’s including Human Rights at Sea and the International Transport Workers Federation is working to help crew members. Major satellite providers like Inmarsat have programs in place to increase the bandwidth and connectivity for crew members to connect with families and also mental health and medical professionals.
This problem is going to take a number of months sort out as flights slowly return and restrictions will hopefully start to ease to allow crew members that ability to finally get home to see their loved ones before they turn around and start their tours all over again.