EU inquires about crew changes, key worker status in Bangladesh

EU flags are seen in front of the Berlaymont, the European Commission headquarters. Credit: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

The Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Dhaka has inquired about the conditions of seafarers’ mobility in Bangladesh and whether crew changes can occur during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent verbal note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the EU wanted to know whether seafarers are considered “essential workers” in Bangladesh, whether they are allowed to travel, and if they are exempt from measures, such as quarantine, required for their work.

People familiar with the development said the EU has sent similar letters recently to governments all over the world amid fear that seafarers are not getting the access to essential facilities during the crisis.

In a note to Bangladeshi officials, the EU also asked whether non-Bangladeshi seafarers are allowed to transit through or have a layover in Bangladesh when their port of embarkation is in a different country, whether crew changes are taking place in Bangladeshi ports, and how many crew changes are expected to take place in the ports per week.

The EU also sought to find out if the seafarers can leave their ships to receive medical treatment in Bangladesh and whether this is only permitted in case of an acutely life-threatening condition or other serious injuries and illnesses.

Concern has grown as thousands of seafarers across the world remain stuck in vessels for months, failing to sign off, as governments in many countries are not allowing them to come onshore for fear of them spreading coronavirus. The suspension or massive decline of international flights during COVID-19 has further worsened the crew change crisis.

According to Bangladeshi officials, the Department of Shipping (DoS) has responded to the EU queries stating that Bangladesh has taken a “proactive decision” by not imposing a quarantine requirement for ships and crew so that the supply chain can be maintained with the least interruptions possible, while maintaining the World Health Organization guidelines.

In Bangladesh, crew changes have not stopped or discontinued, but due to the non-availability of flights, crew change-over is ‘highly disturbed’ similar to other parts of the world.

“Bangladesh is in the process to officially declare seafarers as key or essential workers and we physically always treat seafarers as key or essential workers. For international crew, Bangladesh has the provision of allowing on-arrival visa for 72 hours at the airports,” said the DoS.

The DoS said that in line with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) protocol on crew change, seafarers are allowed to travel throughout Bangladesh and are exempted from quarantine requirements.

The DoS added that Bangladesh allows chartered flights through diplomatic channels and is open for all shipping companies if they are willing to do so.

“Bangladesh allows seafarers of all nationalities to transit through and can have a layover in Bangladesh even when their port of embarkation is in different countries,” the DoS said.

The DoS maintained that Bangladesh allows crew changes to take place at its ports following health-related guidelines. Nearly 200 crew have performed crew changes through Bangladeshi ports in a week and both national and international crew are allowed to change through its ports.

“Seafarers of all nationalities are allowed to avail medical treatment in Bangladesh under the arrangement of the shipping agents in case of such need. It includes all kind of ailment as determined by the master and their shipping agent,” the maritime regulator noted.

DoS director general Commodore Syed Ariful Islam told SAS that crew are able to access all required facilities in Bangladesh during this emergency period.

“There’s a directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the immigration of seafarers and we are following on it,” he concluded.