Despite COVID-19 regulations prohibiting foreign crew changes at South African ports, the country’s Department of Transport said there were cases where seafarers were allowed to repatriate during lockdown.
“We tried to remain flexible during lockdown. There was some disembarkation of foreign seafarers, but there were certain processes that needed to be followed,” said Mthunzi Madiya, chief director of maritime, Department of Transport.
He said that 642 seafarers were disembarked through South African seaports from passenger liners, of which three were nationals of neighbouring countries who were disembarked and immediately repatriated.
In addition, 300 seafarers were disembarked to transit for immediate repatriation to their home countries via chartered flights.
The department is also in negotiations with the maritime sector about disembarking seafarers, provided that there are flights available, especially to repatriate foreign seafarers.
“Aviation is not operational, so it appears that, moving forward, we may still have a challenge. We need to have arrangement in place so that if foreign seafarers are allowed to disembark in South Africa ports, they can be immediately repatriated under the adjusted COVID-19 regulations of this country. It appears we will only have international aviation space opened at Level 1,” he said.
In regard to South African seafarers stranded and distressed abroad, Madiya said they are repatriated through chartered flights as co-ordinated through South African foreign missions. “Upon their return, they are subjected to normal COVID-19 quarantine protocols that were issued by the Department of Health. We never, as a country, blocked the return of seafarers who were stranded abroad. As long as there were ways and means for them to return to the country, they were allowed to return.”