Stranded South African seafarers awaiting repatriation

South African Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula at a press conference. Credit: DAVID HARRISON/AFP via Getty Images

Hundreds of South African seafarers caught up in the maelstrom of the global coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown while serving on cruise liners have been successfully repatriated. However, there are still a number stranded abroad.

The country went into a 21-day lockdown at midnight on 26 March 2020, which included closing all airports and seaports, except for cargo operations. The regulations also prohibit any crew changes or passenger disembarkation, unless they are returning South African citizens or permanent residents. The lockdown has since been extended to 30 April 2020.

“To date, there are about 130 crew members in São Paulo, London, Frankfurt, Italy, and Ghana. The seafarers are receiving assistance from their respective employers and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO),” said South African Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula.

Various government departments – including Department of Transport (DoT), Department of Health, and the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) – are working closely with DIRCO to arrange the safe transfer of the seafarers back to the country, he said.

SAMSA, which is also the country’s registrar of seafarers, announced special measures to assist South African crew members reportedly stranded abroad in early March. Any returning seafarers have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period when they get back to the country, whether it is by sea or air. The authority is currently monitoring the repatriation of seafarers still overseas and waiting for arrangements for their travel home to be finalised.

In addition, the DoT reported that no less than 10 vessels, including cruise vessels and research ships, had sought assistance at South African ports for replenishment since the ports were closed.

MSC Cruises, a major cruise operator with a significant intake of South African seafarers, announced recently it had halted cruises globally up to end of May 2020.