Worsening crew change crisis catalyses a best practices list for charterers
Despite the industry’s numerous efforts to contain the worldwide crew change crisis, it barely made a dent in alleviating the issue. India’s new COVID-19 variant intensified border restrictions, further lengthening crew’s stay onboard beyond their contract durations.
Appeal for collective efforts to mitigate the crisis
COVID-19’s devastation reminded governments to recognise seafarers as key workers, prioritise their access to vaccines and implement health protocols to enable safe crew change. A few high profile maritime organisations namely Rio Tinto, Cargill Ocean Transportation, Vale SA, Vitol and Anglo American, collectively published a framework of best practices to facilitate crew change. In their mission to help the industry alleviate the crisis, all stakeholders, international organisations, governments, industry associations, labour unions, NGOs and companies are urged to participate in the cause.
The purpose of the framework is to guide a charterer to adapt to their own specific circumstances enabling crew-change. It is hoped that this will inspire others to not only implement these actions on the ground but also to openly share their best practices. It added crew change is a combined responsibility and no charter contracts should contain clauses that prevent it. However, improvements can only materialise if actions are taken.
Based on the authors’ experience, both charterers and shipowners can facilitate crew change through collaborative efforts, simultaneously minimising disruptions. This will benefit all stakeholders and seafarers, as the latter is the backbone of global seaborne trade.
The framework’s key components
The framework introduces 3 important components to enable crew change:
- Having a clear leadership mandate with the intent to carry out crew change is essential. It sends a clear signal to employees that organisations are ready to take efforts to ensure crew change takes place, even if it results in more costs and delays. Though costs are a constant bane for any business, open dialogue with the ground accompanied with proper planning can effect savings.
- A central point of contact is vital to support crew change across all chartering operations – ensuring all related parties are updated on all decisions. For instance, always consider crew change matters when deciding the vessel to be deployed.
- Dialogue and transparency between charterers and shipowners, plus deep understanding of the vessel situation and crew are also critical to facilitate crew change.
Before chartering a vessel, shipowners are requested to provide information on the precautions in place. For instance, health protocols to minimise risks of COVID-19. Information on crew contract status and upcoming plans for crew change are also needed. The purpose of obtaining this data is to work with the shipowner to find the best solutions to carry out necessary crew change while minimising disruptions.
This principle is also applicable in spot charters. Notwithstanding the slight difference in charter traits, alternatives such as deploying other vessels can be considered. However, unforeseen circumstances can still happen in spite of the best preparations; such as government regulations which thwart crew change. Shipowners hence would be more instrumental in finding feasible solutions to facilitate crew sign-offs.
Going back to basics, businesses are reliant on seafarers to sustain the world’s supply chains. It is therefore fundamental to consider seafarers’ welfare instead of subjecting them to the pandemic –related repercussions while in service. Echoing the Neptune Declaration’s principles, it is a shared responsibility to recognise the seafarers who sustain global seaborne trade. It is through collaboration that the maritime ecosystem will be able to address the crisis.
Global Maritime Forum