Bangladesh extends validity of seafarer documents by six months

A port authority official and crew on a vessel in Bangladesh. Credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Bangladesh’s Department of Shipping (DoS) has extended the validity of all seafarer documents by six months, considering the difficulties associated with COVID-19 for their renewal. The extension is for documents scheduled to expire between 1 February 2020 and 1 June 2021.

The DoS, in a notification last week, said the documents shall remain valid, irrespective of whether the seafarer is/was on ship at the time of expiry or not.

“Seafarers are not required to apply for the extension,” stated the notification.

The notification revealed that serious interruptions to the shipping industry are becoming long-lasting and uncertain as a consequence of COVID-19, which has forced businesses across the world to shutdown and restricted movement of people as well.

Travel restrictions; lockdowns; delayed port clearance; prevention of crew and passengers from embarking or disembarking; prevention of discharging or loading cargo or stores, or taking on fuel, water, food, and supplies; and imposition of quarantine or refusal of port entry to ships have taken place in the pandemic.

In these circumstances, seafarers are not able to sign off or be repatriated, and are under compulsion to sail with expired certificates of competencies/certificates of proficiency/certificates of recognition (CoC/CoP/CoR), the notification said, and added the seafarers willing to sail cannot validate or renew their expired documents now.

“Consideration will be given to allow seafarers who hold foreign-issued certificates of competencies to continue serving on board Bangladesh-registered ships, if they are unable to re-validate their CoC before the expiry date due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” it added.

The seafarer’s medical certificate and the continuous discharge certificate will also enjoy the six months’ extension automatically on their expiry date.

DoS director general Commodore Syed Ariful Islam told SAS that the automatic renewal of these documents will facilitate jobs of Bangladeshi seafarers.

“If the documents become invalid due to the date expiry, they are unable to work in ships. We have offered the automatic validity extension to help seafarers continue working,” said Islam.

Bangladesh has never imposed restrictions on crew changes, as COVID-19 hit the world, he commented.

However, after the outbreak the government declared a country-wide shutdown on 26 March, which lasts until 30 June. International air flights were also suspended, which subsequently barred seafarers from entering and leaving the country.

As a result, no crew changes took place during this period, which may last until 15 June, when the international air flights start operating again, he said.

Islam also said seafarers will have to strictly follow the International Maritime Organization’s health-related guidelines to help prevent any further spread of the deadly virus, which has claimed thousands of lives across the world.