Impact of COVID-19 on seafarers underestimated

Crew members aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama port on February 27, 2020. Credit: Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP

Singaporean ship manager Synergy Group has stated that it believes the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak on seafarers is being overlooked.

The deadly virus has seen severe restrictions put in place on seafarers calling at ports across the Asia Pacific region. This has resulted in the crew manning the world’s commercial fleet of tankers, commodity-carrying bulk carriers, and container ships not being allowed to leave vessels when calling at ports in China, the epicentre of the virus.

Restrictions preventing crew leaving the ship or denying seafarers access to a visa-on-arrival are also in place at a range of countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia, Australia, and South Korea. This means that seafarers are stuck on board ships, unable to see their families for even longer periods of time than accustomed to.

Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO and founder of Synergy Group, commented: “Seafarers are working under tremendous pressure and doing an amazing job keeping world trade moving. But many are, understandably, anxious about when they can see families again because of restrictions on crew changes and quarantine periods being enforced on arrival at some countries.”

“It’s very challenging on some routes because crew changes are not allowed at either end,” said Capt Unni. “But seafarers are a durable bunch. We’re very proud of how they are coping.”

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Synergy crew have been advised to reduce contact with shore personnel and follow standard precautions, including maintaining meticulous personal hygiene regimes as recommended by authorities.

Shipping has been crippled by the spread of the virus over the last month, which has seen large parts of the Chinese economy closed down for extended periods. This is having supply chain and business reverberations globally and has devastated shipping freight rates and cargo demand.