Covid-19 has paralysed supply chains and the movement of people, but nowhere has the disruption been more stark than on the issue of crew changes. Port restrictions and the global lockdown has stifled crew mobility. Ship operators have found themselves unable to repatriate seafarers in the normal manner. Crew members have had to remain on ships beyond their contracted period. Others have been unable to join their ships. The strain on the world’s seafarers is hard to imagine. At this time, the UK Club reiterates its support to the Mission to Seafarers and the Sailors Society. At the same time, to assist its members the Club has pulled together the following guidance on legal, operational, contractual and cover issues drawing from its own resources as well as from across the industry as a whole. The situation in ports can change rapidly depending on the local Covid-19 restrictions and Members are always advised to check local current advice in the first instance.
The Club is pleased to now be offering Covid-19 Deviation cargo liability cover at no additional cost. The Club is now offering all UK Club mutual Members an additional cover for any cargo liabilities arising solely due to deviations for crew changes.
Crew changes: An industry overview
Since issues relating to ships carrying out crew changes and the safe repatriation of crewmembers during the current pandemic came to light, various maritime and crew related organisations have highlighted these issues and voiced the urgent need to resolve them. Governments and relevant national authorities have been asked to acknowledge the important and crucial role played by seafarers, particularly during this pandemic and to introduce special exemptions for seafarers in their national laws restricting the movement of persons during the pandemic, and to ensure that means of transport, especially between ports and airports but also between the homes of the seafarers and airports, are available to the seafarers. Additionally, a relaxation of documentary requirements for the seafarers is also necessary during a time when the inspection and the issuing of such documentation is hampered by disruptions brought about by the pandemic.
A recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the pandemic, proposed by a broad cross-section of global industry associations in consultative status with the Organization representing the maritime transportation sector: ICS, IAPH, BIMCO, IFSMA, INTERTANKO, International Group Clubs, CLIA, INTERCARGO, InterManager, IPTA, IMCA, INTERFERRY, FONASBA, ITF and WSC; and which also take account of input from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been drawn up, and the same has been endorsed by the IMO. It is however disappointing that few governments and relevant national authorities have to date implemented this framework of protocols. The implementation of these protocols will hugely assist in addressing the issues identified in respect of the safe conduct of crew changes and crew repatriation.
- 27.03.20 – IMO Circular Letter No. 4204/Add. 6 - which contained, inter alia, recommendations to Member States about measures to facilitate ship crew changes in seaports during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and called on governments to designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of their nationality, as 'key workers' providing an essential service.
- 05.05.20 - IMO Circular letter No. 4204/Add. 14 - Coronavirus (COVID-19) – The recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
- 07.05.20 - IMO Briefing 15 07/05/2020 - IMO endorsed new protocols designed to lift barriers to crew changes.
- 22.05.20 – IMO Circular Letter No. 4204/Add. 18 - Joint Statement IMO-ICAO-ILO on the designation of seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, aviation personnel, air cargo supply chain personnel and service provider personnel at airports and ports as key workers, and on facilitation of crew changes in ports and airports in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 27.05.20 - IMO Briefing 16 27/05/2020 – UN agencies call for urgent action on crew changes and keyworker designation for sea and air workers.
- 17.06.20 – Port State Control regimes cooperate with IMO on crew changes and certificate renewals.
- 26.06.20 –IMO hosted a Webinar - "Seafarers are key workers: Essential to shipping, essential to the world".
- 08.07.20 - ICS encouraging ships around the world to sound their horns when in port at 12.00 local time on 8 July 2020 to remind governments of the ongoing crew change crisis.
- 09.07.20 – UK to hold the first summit to address the impact of coronavirus on shipping crew changes on 9 July.
In April, the Club published a FAQ to help guide Members on the most common questions asked regarding the impact of COVID-19 and the operation of Club cover.
The most pressing questions that arise in current circumstances revolve around deviation.
Where a crewmember who is effectively in quarantine awaiting repatriation is taken ill or is injured or dies awaiting repatriation, it is likely that the crew contract and/or Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will dictate that the Member is liable for the claim. In such circumstances, P&I cover will respond to that claim.
However, if none of the discharging crew are sick or exhibiting any symptoms and the requirement for quarantine of the crew either in a hotel or in a special facility is purely precautionary, the associated costs of keeping the crew in 'quarantine' – i.e. accommodation, travel and subsistence costs, crew wages, etc. would be considered as operational costs and not covered by P&I.
International Group COVID-19 tracker
The International Group's publicly accessible online tool to assist shipowners and others in the maritime sector track country and port specific advice around the world, detailing the measures being put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the interactive map users can select "Are Crew Changes Permitted" option from the filter and quickly view the current advice for a port.
Crew medical certification policy updated
Crew working longer contracts has understandably led some shipowners and operators to become concerned for crew on-board who may have expired medical certificates. To address this concern, the UK Club Crew Health team have recently updated their guidelines in line with the updated information released by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency entitled “Revised medical certification policy during COVID-19 pandemic information for Merchant Seafarers and Fishermen”.
The updated UK Club guidelines allow for a 6 month temporary extension for all medical certificates through the PEME Programme and issued by Club approved clinics. Any employer of crew examined under the UK Club scheme may seek further details and/or confirmation from the Club Crew Health team.
The UK Club's Crew Health team has a number of resources for aiding crew wellbeing and mental health.
- ISWAN (Crew Health Partners)
- Managing your mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Seafarers FAQ about Covid-19
- Posters on psychological first aid and coping with stress during Covid-19
- Dealing with stress during Covid-19
- SeafarerHelp multi-lingual telephone support line
- Good mental health guides