29 JUL 2020
Three weeks after coming together to address the challenges imposed on seafarers due to the travel restrictions due to COVID-19, countries around the world continue to struggle with permitting crew changes while seeking to continue to mitigate the spread of the virus. Several countries have been forced to backtrack on their accommodations prompting leaders in the shipping industry to speak out calling for better coordination and following the protocols.
On the same day that Hong Kong began to enforce its tighter restrictions limiting crew changes mostly to ships importing or exporting cargo from the port, the leaders of Hong Kong two shipping associations wrote a letter explaining their positions. Published in the South China Morning Post, the letter from Bjorn Hojgaard, chairman, Hong Kong Shipowners Association and Roberto Giannetta, chairman, Hong Kong Liner Shipping Association sought to address recent issues and clarify their positions.
“Recently, there have been media reports about the irresponsible behavior of individual practitioners in shipping. A few rotten apples have brought disrepute to their peers and the industry, which has been working hard to ensure the smooth operation of the world’s supply chain for essential items such as food, fuel, and medical supplies, during this most difficult time,” the letter said.
The leaders of Hong Kong’s associations went on to express their extreme disappointment and urging strict adherence to the protocols. The letter suggests that the government impose penalties for not following the protocols, and while repeating calls to recognize seafarers as essential workers they said, “If any of them are unfortunately infected, they deserve our support, not bias.” However, the associations said they had also asked “their members to reschedule or postpone crew changes for at least three weeks.”
Last week, the International Chamber of Shipping also issued a new call urging everyone involved in the shipping industry to strictly adhere to crew change protocols that have been developed to facilitate the safe crew changes. Alarmed by reports of ship managers and individuals failing to comply with national crew change guidelines, the ICS said, “recent failures to strictly comply with crew change and health guidelines, are putting in danger the hard-won accommodations from countries around the world.”
Despite the reports of problems, Dubai announced that it has facilitated 3,000 crew changes in the two weeks since it opened its ports. Working in cooperation between the Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs – Dubai (GDRFA) 1,300 crew members have been signed off ships while 1,700 crew boarded ships in Dubai’s territorial waters.
“The resumption of the marine crew change operations comes from our constant efforts to guarantee the highest levels of health, safety and security of seafarers, visitors and workers within the maritime sector,” said Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, Executive Director of Dubai Maritime City Authority.
Dubai reports that it has witnessed a growth in marine activities, and continues to receive hundreds of requests for crew changes for a broad range of nationalities. Hey note that it is requiring close coordination between the DMCA, the port authorities, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, airlines, and continue to work with the Dubai Health Authority to facilitate the precautionary measures to enable crew changes.
Dubai, however, points out that the efforts also obligates all shipping agents to coordinate closely with the DMCA, the GDRFA – Dubai, Dubai ports and airports in the UAE, to speed up procedures for the movement of crew members from the airport to the ship and from the ship to the airport. Maritime agencies it highlights also have an obligation to perform the required medical examinations, in compliance with the preventive procedures and guidelines on COVID-19 to preserve the health and safety of both the crews and personnel involved in maritime activities.
The move has proved to be a strong boost to Dubai’s national efforts to revitalize its economy, in the post-corona period, but it is also highlighting the need to follow strict precautionary measures.