Taiwan trade association: Crew change is national, not industry issue

Crew members wearing protective masks and gloves. Credit: Wagner Meier/Getty Images

The chairman of Taiwan’s Association of Shipping Services, Lee Yi-ren, said that the issue of crew change should be upgraded to a national issue, and not treated as just a problem facing shipping companies.

Speaking after his election as the association’s chairman in July, Lee said, “Seafarers are vital to the shipping industry. If there is no shipping industry to transport grain from the United States and South America to other countries in the world, uneven food distribution may occur; if there is no shipping, oil won’t be exported from oil-producing countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. The same is true of coal and iron ore mining companies that depend on shipping to get their output to customers worldwide.”

He said that the issue of extending seafarers’ onboard employment contracts beyond 12 months is unacceptable, noting that Australian authorities have vowed to clamp down on this by detaining ships whose crew have worked on board for 14 months and beyond.

Lee’s comments coincided with Maersk urging government action to end the crew change crisis, following a related summit in the UK on 9 July 2020.

There are currently an estimated 200,000 seafarers stuck on board and onshore due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. For many crew, the situation has become dire: the captain of Emma Maersk, who was stranded on board for 167 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, had to pull teeth for crew members as they were refused medical assistance. The captain disembarked in Hamburg, Germany, on 9 July. Following this event and the UK summit, Maersk issued a statement asking governments to act urgently to implement policy to help crew changes.

Lee also said that while certain countries may allow crew change amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of international flights presents another difficulty in repatriating seafarers. He said that in order to get crew change resumed efficiently, governments should also work together to resolve all the logistical issues, especially when shipping is crucial to the global supply chain.

“Taiwanese seafarers usually have changeovers in Kaohsiung port, but the situation is more complicated for Chinese seafarers. I’m aware of a ship that sailed to South Korea in June, and there were Chinese crew on board. Although South Korea allowed crew change, the Chinese seafarers were unable to change over because direct flights to China have been suspended,” Lee concluded.