First crew change facilitated for bulker in Singapore

Crew wearing face masks in Singapore's Changi Airport. Credit: Wilhelmsen Ships Agency

Ship management services provider Synergy Group worked with Wilhelmsen Ships Agency to facilitate what has been described as the first full crew change exercise in Singapore.

The exercise, which took place on 6 June 2020, exchanged 19 Indian seafarers from Genco Shipping & Trading’s 2016-built 180,000 dwt Capesize bulker, Genco Liberty, with replacement on-signers comprising 14 Sri Lankans and four Indian nationals.

The off-signing crew were on the ship for eight to 10 months, and certified as healthy by doctors before travelling to the airport, in private transport, to fly back to India. “We have  been trying to conduct crew changes since the outbreak of COVID-19. In early March, we proposed the idea of a safe corridor for seafarers to facilitate crew changes, founded an alliance of leading maritime companies in April to push for collective crew changes, and most recently have been one of the participants in the Singapore Crew Change Working Group,” said Rajesh Unni, CEO, Synergy Group.

The crew change was carried out in partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore government. By enabling Sri Lankan and Indian seafarers to join and disembark the bulk carrier, through this “well-planned and controlled changeover”, it has shown that crew changeovers for seafarers of other nationalities are possible during a pandemic, commented Unni.

For both the on-signing and off-signing crew, chartered flights were used to transport them to and from Singapore, as airlines have slashed capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The changeover measures involved on-signing crew undergoing a 14-day home quarantine. Crew had to test negative for COVID-19 before flying into Singapore’s Changi Airport. They were met at the airport by an agent and provided with face masks and hand sanitisation as Singapore’s government has made it compulsory for everyone to wear face masks when outdoors. The crew were then transported on a chartered bus to the port.

For the crew signing off, an approved medical doctor certified that all crew members were fit to travel prior to disembarking from the vessel. The crew were also given face masks and hand sanitisation before being transported to Changi Airport for their flight to India.

A representative of Wilhelmsen Ships Agency said that in the current environment, where the impact and restrictions relating to the pandemic remain fluid in many places, crew change co-ordination will continue to be a challenge.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crew change can take place in Singapore under certain conditions and set procedures established by MPA in May. These include set quarantine periods for crew and allowances for seafarers whose employment contracts have expired. These procedures are further elaborated in the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook.

“The new guidelines provide both predictability and a solid foundation for safe crew changes in substantially larger numbers than seen the last few months. In that regard, the new clear, consistent guidelines could become the blueprint for port authorities elsewhere when looking at reopening for crew changes,” said a representative of Wilhelmsen Ships Agency.