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Singapore halts crew changes for seafarers with recent travel to India resulting huge impact on the relief of the seafarers onboard the vessels

Thome Marine’s Chief Human Resources Officer Simon Frank: ‘India being the third-largest supplier of officers to the world merchant fleet, this will have a huge impact on the relief of the seafarers onboard the vessels’.

Shipping companies will face immediate delays in crew changes and the resulting financial costs, while the situation could worsen with more countries expected to follow Singapore’s suit, according to industry experts. They also warned of mental fatigue, frustration, and depression to be experienced by the crew onboard.

SINGAPORE has decided to suspend crew changes for all seafarers with recent travel to India, raising concerns that more countries could follow suit.

The move represents a setback to the previous relaxation when all crew members could sign off and make changeovers in the Asia maritime hub.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said that crew with recent travel history to India in the last 14 days will not be allowed in the port.

This includes sign-on crew traveling to Singapore by flight or transiting India on their connecting flights, as well as sign-off crew from vessels that have called in the South Asia country.

The suspension, which will take effect from April 24, is part of the city state’s decision to ban the entry of all non-resident travelers who have recently been to India, where the coronavirus infections have resurged.

“India being the third-largest supplier of officers to the world merchant fleet, this will have a huge impact on the relief of the seafarers on board the vessels,” said Thome Marine’s chief human resources officer Simon Frank.

The new ban will delay crew changes as they have to be planned from other locations fitting the vessel’s trade, he said. “A delay and the uncertainty will add into mental fatigue, frustration, depression to the crew onboard.”

Captain Yves Vandenborn, director of loss prevention at The Standard Club, echoed the view. He said shipowners will have to keep the crew on the ships and continue sailing until the next available port for crew rotation. “This, in turn, will cause further hardship for those Indian crew who will have their contracts extended.”

Mr. Frank expected other maritime nations to implement similar restrictions on the joining of Indian seafarers. And that will increase the demand for seafarers from other countries with companies desperate to find a replacement.

“With the second global wave of pandemic and lack of vaccination for seafarers we foresee a major crewing crisis in the immediate future, and we are preparing our crew and vessels to face the same.” he said.

He noted that many seafarers are postponing the embarkment with their family members or neighbours getting infected, which will exacerbate the crewing crisis in the coming weeks.

Singapore’s restrictive measure, if it extends to other ports, would largely stop Indian seafarers from going on board, said a Hong Kong-based shipping executive.

“That would worsen the crew supply which is already very tight amid the pandemic impact.”

Precious Shipping managing director Khalid Hashim argued that by banning Indian seafarers, Singapore is taking a responsible stance that will make it a safer place for local residents, as well all those onboard ships.

On Wednesday, India reported more than 310,000 new coronavirus cases, the world’s biggest-ever single-day increase of new infections, with the county’s health services collapsing under the influx of patients.

Mr Hashim expected that Singapore’s latest crew restriction will hit those ships or owners “who are unable or unwilling to go the extra mile and spend significantly more to get crew changes done in a safe and responsible manner.”

“We are regularly diverting our ships to Thai waters where we are able to successfully change crew without causing any risks to the crew on board or anyone else.”

He, however, slammed charterers for not being supportive during the crisis.

“It costs us an arm and a leg without a single charterer, despite all their lip service to ESG matters in their annual reports, offering to share in any of these costs.

“Instead, all of them have universally off-hired the ship for the duration of the deviation including fuel consumed during such deviation and we have to take out extra insurance cover for the delay in the utmost dispatch of the voyage.” said Mr Hashim.

About 200,000 seafarers on board are currently affected by the crew change crisis, with a similar amount of them waiting to join ships and earn a living, according to estimates by Synergy chief executive Rajesh Unni.

And the number have begun to rise sharply again as governments reintroduce stricter border control and travel restrictions due to new coronavirus variants.

“I have said this in the past that shipping needs to find a voice that travels beyond the ports and the high seas and reaches the decision makers who are currently determining the fate of our seafarers, we are else staring at another full-blown crisis.” said Mr Unni.

Source: Thome Ship Management