Singapore approves 4,000 crew changes on 500 ships

Crew disembarking from Scorpio Tankers' products tanker STI Carnaby. Credit: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has approved more than 4,000 cases of crew change for over 300 companies since 27 March 2020. The cases involved some 500 ships that include tankers, bulk carriers, container ships, and offshore vessels.

Travel restrictions imposed by many governments to contain the COVID-19 pandemic has made crew change difficult, although Singapore and Hong Kong are among the few countries that have heeded industry bodies’ calls to recognise seafarers as essential workers and permit crew change in certain circumstances.

The MPA has been working closely with other government agencies, unions, and the shipping industry to facilitate and support crew change. An industry task force led by the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) in partnership with Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union recently published the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook relating to procedures for a ‘safe corridor’ that allows crew change to be carried out in a safe environment to minimise any local public health risk and to the shipping community.

MPA’s chief executive, Quah Ley Hoon, said, “There is a global need for large numbers of crew changes to take place. MPA will continue to work with the industry and unions on creative solutions, one of which is a floating holding facility for crew; we’re finalising the details. We are also heartened to receive kind notes of appreciation from seafarers and companies [for] whose crew we have made a difference.”

SSA executive director Michael Phoon said, “The process [of developing the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook] was challenging as the protocols had to take into consideration both regulatory requirements and the practical demands by the shipping industry. We certainly hope the accomplishment by the Singapore Crew Change Workgroup and the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook can serve as a model for the international maritime industry as we navigate the future together.”

The situation facing an estimated 200,000 seafarers is so dire that the International Transport Workers’ Federation is taking matters into its own hands, urging seafarers not to accept an extension of onboard employment.

Airlines have slashed capacity as the pandemic has halted international tourism, and crewing agency CF Sharp, lauded by InterManager alongside ship management group V Ships, turned to cruise liners to repatriate seafarers.

On 16 June 2020, Norwegian Cruise Line’s vessel Norwegian Joy is expected to arrive at the Philippines from the US west coast with 467 Filipino crew on board, of which 350 will ‘off sign’ being long overdue for crew relief. Also on board are 312 Indian seafarers who will be flown to Goa and Mumbai. A number of Chinese seafarers will also be flown back to China or remain on board awaiting the arrival of a further vessel, Norwegian Escape.

Upon arrival and following ship clearance, the 350 off-signing seafarers will undergo swab tests with results expected back within 2–3 days. Negative tests will enable them to disembark the ship and return to  their homes and families.