Japan’s big three shipping groups deviate to Manila for crew change

Port of Manila, Philippines. Credit: IHS Markit

Japan’s top three shipowners, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), NYK Line, and ‘K’ Line, have been deviating their vessels to Manila Bay to carry out crew change, as the Philippines is the largest source of seafarers.

The companies told SAS that they came up with this method due to the lack of international flights and difficulties with crew change in many countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 30 June, the Philippines’ government opened a ‘green lane’ for seafarers to speed up crew repatriation, which became effective on 2 July. The move will enable Filipino seafarers to commute to their hometowns from the capital Manila, which had been locked down since 16 March.

A spokesperson for MOL told SAS, “We do not comment on each crew change case, but yes, it’s true that we have had a case[s] where our ship had a minor deviation to Manila Bay to carry out crew change in the Philippines with the support from the government and related parties.

“This operation was done to overcome this difficult time with restrictions for crew change around the world and to secure safe operation.”

Despite calls from the International Maritime Organization, the International Chamber of Shipping, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to governments to recognise seafarers as essential workers and to allow crew change, some governments remain wary due to the risk of imported COVID-19 infections.

NYK Line’s spokesperson told SAS that the company had carried out crew change in the Philippines a couple of times.

“We would like to further push crew change at the Philippines as an option, though we still see hurdles to be cleared due to regulations at the Philippines side,” NYK Line’s spokesperson said.