It used to be a highly sought-after benefit; it is now something the crew hesitates to utilise
Despite being an entitlement, the fear of contracting COVID-19 onshore instead became a risk few seafarers are willing to take. Should the virus be detected onboard, the vessel will have trouble calling at the next port.
Appeal for empathy
Australia’s ABC News quoted Shipping Australia’s CEO Melwyn Noronha’s word on the seafarers, “If they get the virus and come onboard, the next port could be an issue.” Ship captains, operators, and managers may still deem it too risky, even as COVID-19 restrictions ease and governments start to welcome vaccinated RAT-tested crews.
A Western Australia Department of Health’s spokesman said seafarers were allowed shore leave provided they met COVID requirements for crew and were vaccinated, which Noronha disclosed 78 per cent of the world’s seafarers were. However, Mission to Seafarers’ volunteer Fred Lochowicz said none had visited him at his Esperance base.
Between January and April 2018 (pre-COVID days), 98,386 Maritime Crew visas which allowed seafarers to move across Australia’s international border and usually last three years, were granted by the Department of Home Affairs. That dived to 77,917 during the same period last year. 85,965 visas have been issued this year. It was believed no shipping agents were arranging crew’s visitor passes at the Esperance Port with the current infection rates.
Mission to Seafarers Australia and PNG Regional Director Garry Dodd said it had been a tough time for many seafarers, and hoped communities would be welcoming once more started taking shore leave. He lamented, “We are seeing occasions of individual communities being scared of the seafarers and think that maybe they will bring COVID-19 into their community.” Urging the public to exercise some empathy, Dodd appealed: “There are hundreds of thousands of seafarers who have not touched dry land for all of their contract. If they had a back-to-back contract that may be for two or two and a half years.”
Crewing Online Media Team
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