By Rajesh Divakaran, Head of Marine HR / MLC Officer
It’s been over a year of crew change crisis due to the COVID pandemic. The crisis was at its peak during the third and fourth quarters of 2020 and it started to ease at the beginning of the first quarter of 2021 with more countries allowing crew changes and removing some restrictions.
The UN resolution to recognize seafarers as key workers were passed in December of 2020 and since 7th April 2021 around 62 countries have designated seafarers as key workers. The key worker status mainly helps in the movement of seafarers within a country and internationally for joining and signing off from the vessels. The industry also hopes that the designation could play a key role in granting seafarers priority access to the COVID-19 vaccination.
This has helped the industry to carry out more crew changes worldwide during Q1-2021, however, there are still restrictions for seafarers when joining and signing off in certain ports.
On April 21, a second wave of the pandemic was recorded. More and more countries are going back into lockdowns and the number of positive cases is at a record high in the major seafaring nations like the Philippines, India, Ukraine, and most European countries.
We are now experiencing an increased number of positive cases amongst crew ready to join vessels or seafarers having to isolate themselves due to their family members getting infected. This has caused a lot of last-minute backouts of seafarers who were lined up to join vessels. Occasionally, this has led to the cancellation of planned crew changes as not enough relief crew were available to replace those onboard.
The number of seafarers awaiting repatriation worldwide has declined from 400,000 from October 2020 to 200,000 in March 2021 but we expect this number to go up if the second wave continues its current trend and if we do not prioritize and expedite the vaccination of seafarers.
We are closely monitoring the situation and keeping our seafarers and all other stakeholders updated with the latest developments.