During the last few weeks, scores of vessels have begun recruiting many Bangladeshi seafarers through the Government Shipping Office (GSO) and by private manning agents, although official crew figures have not been revealed.
After months of COVID-19 slowing or stopping crew changes around the world, the rise in recruitment will relieve seafarers who have been on board ships for months – some more than a year.
The newly recruited seafarers are working on 60 locally owned vessels and 234 foreign ships. Some of the vessels or manning agents who recruited crew members in the recent weeks include Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, HR Lines, M/S A Z Shipping Services, M/S Marine (Agency) Services Ltd, and M/S Sea King Marine Services Ltd.
The recruitment of crew remained almost suspended in March–May this year as COVID-19 hit Bangladesh, but it has resumed gradually in June. Zakir Hossain Chowdhury, shipping master of the GSO, confirmed to SAS that crew recruitment is “gathering pace” in July.
Chowdhury, based in Chittagong, said because some operators have resumed international flights “our crews are also going abroad to sign-on in vessels in different international ports”.
Until June 2020, the number of Bangladeshi crew in national flag carrier vessels were 774 and 1,082 in foreign vessels. Bangladesh had a total of 4,491 registered seafarers at the end of June.
According to officials, the seafarers who are now joining vessels are following the Bangladesh government’s health-related immigration policy, which made possessing a COVID-19 negative report mandatory and are tested within 72 hours of flight or living in the territory by other means.
The government recently made the COVID-19 test mandatory for any Bangladeshi nationals who intend to go abroad. Foreign nationals who stayed in Bangladesh for more than 14 days are also required to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure.
International crews who are coming into Bangladesh to sign-on in vessels also have to show COVID-19 negative test reports, issued within 72 hours, at the immigration desk, according to a notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Commodore Syed Ariful Islam, director general of the Department of Shipping, told SAS a test report that confirms if a seafarer is virus-free is a must for all crew who are intending to go abroad or entering Bangladesh.
“We are following the home ministry’s order to this regard,” he said.