Thailand allows crew changes on ‘humanitarian principles’

The docks at Khlong Toei port, Bangkok's main cargo terminal for shipping. Credit: Charlesworth/LightRocket via Getty Images

Starting from 11 August, Thailand has begun to allow crew changes for local and foreign nationals. The decision is based on crew welfare requirements outlined in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006).

A notification from the Thailand Marine Department said that crew change guidelines must ensure compliance with the requirements of the MLC 2006, which state that crew should not work more than 12 months on board. Therefore, Thailand is allowing foreign crew to change work duties on a ship within its country as appropriate and necessary according to ‘humanitarian principles’.

Crew who intend to sign off should produce a letter to the immigration authority. The letter needs to be signed by a person in charge and state the time of arrival and departure, along with the reason of entering Thailand.

They should also carry an insurance policy that covers the cost of healthcare and medical treatment in case of detection of COVID-19 or any other guarantee throughout the duration of their stay in Thailand. The insurance coverage should not be less than USD100,000.

It will be mandatory for crew members to go through screening for respiratory symptoms and their fever should be measured at the international entry and exit channel before entering Thailand. The documents must be submitted to a competent official or the communicable diseases control official at international entry and exit channels. Crew must also undergo a COVID-19 infectious disease test by RT-PCR and if the tests are negative and they have a scheduled departure from Thailand, they need to leave immediately to the destination.

If the crew members have no specific schedule to leave Thailand, they must carry out a RT-PCR test and stay quarantined and follow the order of the communicable disease control officer at the place designated to them.

“While under quarantine the crew members should comply with the rules and guidelines prescribed by the government,” said Withaya Yamoung, director general of the Thailand Marine Department.

Countries allowing crew changes have been welcomed by the shipping industry and crew seeking to return home after more than a year at sea. However, there are many stipulations that are too difficult for crew to follow. Speaking to SAS, Kuba Syzmanski, secretary general of InterManager, pointed to countries such as Singapore or Hong Kong that he feels are putting up “barriers” to crew changes, making it nearly impossible to carry them out, despite them technically being able to take place. Such barriers, he said, included only allowing crew changes for Singapore-flagged ships, and the multiple logistical issues associated with trying to get COVID-19 tests for crew 48 hours before flights, especially when flights may end up changing or being delayed at short notice.

Similar to many other countries, Thailand had previously suspended crew changes in its country after the deadly pandemic broke out across the globe early in 2020, fearing a mass spread of the disease. On 26 March, the Southeast Asian nation banned foreigners from travelling on its soil through an emergency decree and closed all departmental stores, shopping malls, and entertainment centres, among others, to curb the spread of the virus.

Through following strict measures, Thailand has managed to keep the infection rate under control and at the time of writing, 3,376 cases were detected while the death toll remains at 58.