Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Praise - but with Reservations as Seafarers Await More Action on Crew Changes

Why Did So Few Governments Meet to Right and Obvious Humanitarian Wrong?
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – Whilst the recent talks in London regarding the status upgrade of seafarers to recognise them as key workers and urgently remove red tape to permit their repatriation were generally praised, there was a cogent, and slightly less enthusiastic point made by the new head of maritime group BIMCO.

The meeting, held in a bid to simplify and expedite the return home and exchange of crews delayed due to the pandemic, drew a negative, yet very accurate point from David Loosley, BIMCO Secretary General, who took over the position from Angus Frew in July 2020.

The global summit hosted by the UK Government on 9 July 2020 attracted only the attendance of just fifteen countries. Thirteen pledged to take action to help cut through bureaucratic red tape preventing crew changes, which is a ‘step in the right direction’ according to BIMCO but hardly what was needed in terms of international support for a very real humanitarian problem.

There is a defence of course that the virus itself and the safety conditions which it engenders inhibits attendance at such events, but video conferencing is proving an acceptable substitute, even at government level. Additionally those who did attend represent some of the big hitters in terms of ship owning and crewing, but that avoids the fact that of all the 174 nations represented at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) just over 7% actually turned up and agreed to try and do something.

Now BIMCO has said that, whilst it was positive that notable maritime nations attended and pledged support, and there has been encouraging news since then, it remains concerned about both the number of participants and the lack of timescales for concrete actions, with David Loosley saying:

“The absence of many key countries from the international community at the summit highlights the apparent indifference of some governments towards the crew change crisis and their lack of understanding of the critical role seafarers play in keeping international trade moving.”

In the past few months, the shipping industry has spurred itself into action to find ways to overcome the obstacles that have made crew changes so difficult to perform. The industry has created safety protocols, conducted media interviews, chartered flights, rerouted ships, written to politicians, made noise in ports and on social media; people have worked tirelessly in crewing offices around the world to find their way through bureaucratic mazes, and around cancelled flights, to get crews home and onto the ships.

At a practical level, BIMCO has appealed to ship owners and those who hire the services of their ships to work together to carry out crew changes. If ship owners are unable to make crew changes at the ports where the ship visits, then they should not be penalised if they must carry out the crew change elsewhere. The ability of a ship to continue operating safely depends on regular crew changes to avoid fatigue.

In the exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic agreement is needed that crew changes are a common benefit and that those hiring the ships should be willing to contribute to the process. Loosley continued:

“BIMCO has created a tangible contractual solution to allow crew changes to happen through a cooperative approach, and now it is the turn of governments to play their vital part and cut the red tape, not just talk about it. Now is not the time for inward looking nationalism, all governments need to step up to the mark and work together to provide a tangible international solution to a pressing international problem; robust, decisive and immediate action is needed to bring our seafarers home safely.”