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Shipment security: the Covid factors

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Travel and border restrictions linked to Covid-19, as well as the widespread suspension of international flights, have significantly affected the ability of ship operators to effect crew changes. Between March and August 2020, only 25% of normal crew changes could take place (SCI) [8] while at least half a million sailors have been affected.

In March 2021, it is estimated that some 200,000 sailors [9] remained on board commercial vessels, unable to be repatriated and passed the expiration of their contracts, with a similar number of seafarers urgently required to join the ships to replace them. Every day, nearly a million seafarers work on some 60,000 large freighters around the world, according to the IMO.

The crisis raises serious welfare, safety and regulatory issues. In addition to humanitarian and crew welfare issues, there is an increasing risk that crew fatigue could lead to human error and even serious accidents.

“Timely crew changes are essential to the safety of maritime operations, and seafarers who spend long periods on board are at greater risk for mental health issues, exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety and mental stress, ”he added. said Captain Nitin Chopra, senior consultant in maritime risks at AGCS.

“There has to be a global collaborative effort to get the crews off the ships. But the industry may also need to take measures to give crews a little breathing room, such as adjustments to working hours.

If crews are fatigued, a vessel could potentially be considered unseaworthy under international maritime law. “

Crew changes are also a risk of non-compliance. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), crews must not serve more than 11 consecutive months at sea and have the right to access facilities and medical care ashore. According to IMO, Covid-19 has forced many seafarers to serve much longer than the 11 months agreed by the ILO. If ships are unable to operate safely in accordance with international rules, ships may be forced to suspend operations.

The current crew crisis is likely to have long-term consequences for the shipping industry, according to Kinsey. “With hundreds of thousands of crew members stranded aboard ships or on extended contracts, I have serious concerns for the next generation of sailors. The situation with Covid-19 means that we are not training and developing them, while the sector may find it difficult to attract new blood due to the current working conditions ”, Kinsey said.

“Shipping is likely to see increased demand as the economy and international trade rebound with vaccinations. However, many crews are tired and have been under immense pressure from Covid-19 for over a year. Potentially, we could see a shortage of sailors if the industry struggles to retain or recruit. ”

The crew crisis has taken on a new dimension in 2021. As Covid-19 infection rates rise in India, one of the world’s largest sources of seafarers, ports – including Singapore, Hong Kong and the Kingdom United – banned ships and crews that had recently visited India. Ships have also stopped calling at Indian ports, which are an important stopover for trade between Europe, Africa and Asia.

With the aim of resolving the current crisis, IMO has created a Crisis Action Team for Seafarers and, in collaboration with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), has developed a ‘Framework of Protocols’ for safely carry out crew changes. IMO and other organizations have repeatedly urged governments to designate seafarers and port personnel as “key workers”, exempt them from national travel or movement restrictions, facilitate emergency repatriation and prioritize vaccinations. Mirroring these calls, more than 450 shipping companies and allied organizations have signed the Declaration of Neptune on the welfare of seafarers and crew change [10].

Prolonged periods at sea can lead to mental fatigue and poor decision-making, which ultimately has an impact on safety, Khanna explains. “The mental health and well-being of seafarers is a major issue that desperately needs to be addressed. Although the problem is recognized – as the Neptune Declaration shows – this problem cannot be tackled by the shipping industry alone and can only be solved in partnership with governments and other stakeholders.

Crew issues were in the spotlight following the Wakashio incident in July 2020 when the ship ran aground off the coast of Mauritius, spilling hundreds of tonnes of oil in the process. Reports [11] said at least two crew members had been on the ship for more than 12 months, unable to disembark when their contracts expire due to restrictive quarantine rules around the world.

A global vaccination program is likely to be the answer to the crew change crisis, although the situation is complicated by the international nature of shipping, Khanna explains.

In March 2021, the SCI [12] warned that lack of access to vaccinations for seafarers places maritime transport in a “legal minefield” and could disrupt supply chains due to canceled departures and port delays. Vaccinations may soon become a mandatory requirement for work at sea due to reports that some states insist that all crews be vaccinated as a prerequisite for entering their ports. However, more than half of the world’s maritime workforce currently comes from developing countries, which could take many years to vaccinate. In addition, the vaccination of seafarers by shipping companies could also raise liability and insurance issues, particularly with regard to compulsory vaccination and confidentiality issues.