South Africa has conducted “hundreds” of crew changes at its nine commercial ports since the country eased its COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to level 2 on 18 August 2020 and level 1 on 21 September 2020.
“A significant number – hundreds – of seafarers have been repatriated from the various ports over the last three months. Exact numbers are not known, as there is no single database; however, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is tracking as many as possible where we are involved,” said Captain Vernon Keller, deputy chief operations officer of SAMSA.
“All government agencies have been working round the clock to ensure that the welfare and mental health of our seafarers are catered for; however, some restrictions do still apply in port due to necessity to protect the country. Although seafarers are allowed to sign on/off from their ships, shore leave is still not permitted,” he added.
According to SAMSA’s Marine Notice No. 47 of 2020 on restrictions for crew changes under level 1, signing-on foreign crew must produce a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test certificate or a valid certificate of COVID-19-negative test results. The test must obtained not more than 72 hours before the date of travel, from an accredited laboratory and in line with World Health Organization requirements at the first South African port of entry. If a crew member cannot produce proof of their COVID-19 status, they will be isolated at a designated quarantine facility at their own cost.
Signing-off crews are not required to produce a valid PCR test certificate if the vessel has not had crew changes or has not visited a foreign port within 10 days of arrival at a South African seaport.
South Africa reopened its borders for international air travel – with restrictions – on 1 October 2020, so crew are repatriated via commercial flights, facilitated by the Department of Home Affairs and Port Health, Captain Keller said.
However, cruise ships are still prohibited from calling at the country’s ports, except to disembark returning South African crew, citizens, or permanent residents as well as for replenishment, medical evacuation, or search and rescue purposes.