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Singapore Works With Shipping to Solve the Crew Change Challenge

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Image courtesy Wilhelmsen

By The Maritime Executive 06-06-2020 09:21:02

Wilhelmsen and Synergy Group have carried out the first crew change under the Singapore Crew Change Working Group (SGCCWG) protocol, a set of guidelines formulated to address the challenges of transferring seafarers in the COVID-19 era. In a carefully planned evolution, 19 new crewmembers flew from Sri Lanka to Singapore, where they relieved the 19-member crew of the bulker Genco Liberty. 

"It is encouraging to see how regulators, industry bodies, customers and indeed competitors now coming together to address such a critical matter, the welfare of seafarers. As port agents, we are committed to supporting the industry in any way we can to get our seafarers home, and new crews redeployed safely and efficiently," said Wilhelmsen Ships Agency EVP Neal De Roche.

The off-going nineteen members of the Liberty's crew will now return home via a chartered flight from Singapore to Colombo, then on to India. Their colleagues - fourteen Sri Lankans and four Indian seafarers who arrived from Sri Lanka early Saturday on the same chartered plane - have signed on aboard the ship.    

Unlike the many port states that have banned seafarer travel, Singapore allows crew changes under stringent procedures established by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). As an example, the oncoming crewmembers for Genco Liberty were asked to remain in home quarantine for 14 days and test negative for COVID-19 before their chartered departure flight. They were met at the airport by an agent with private ground transportation that complied with safe distancing measures. Face masks - required by Singaporean regulations - were provided for all. 

Image courtesy Wilhelmsen

Image courtesy Wilhelmsen

For the crew signing off, an approved doctor certified that they were fit to travel prior to departure. No passenger boats were shared between crew and service technicians. The crew went to the airport in private transport and fresh face masks and hand sanitizer were provided for all before boarding. 

“At Synergy Group we have desperately been trying to conduct crew changes since the outbreak of COVID-19. In early March, we proposed the idea of a safe corridor for seafarers to facilitate crew changes, founded an alliance of leading maritime companies in April to push for collective crew changes and most recently have been one of the participants in the Singapore Crew Change Working Group," said Capt. Rajesh Unni, the founder and CEO of Synergy Group. "By enabling a full complement of Sri Lanka and Indian seafarers to join and disembark . . . [the Singaporean government and MPA] have shown the world that crew changeovers for seafarers of other nationalities are possible even during a pandemic.”

Moving seafarers in India

India has also implemented protocols for crew changes, and the transfer effort is well under way. To date, ship manager Fleet Management Limited has arranged crew changes for over 432 seafarers aboard 34 vessels in 12 ports across India, more than any of its competitors. Including this tally, Fleet has exchanged 1127 crewmembers worldwide, including 609 in China and 84 more in the Philippines. 

“As we navigate the global crisis, we never lose sight of the wellbeing of our seafarers,” said Kishore Rajvanshy, Managing Director, Fleet Management Limited. “While travel restrictions, border control and quarantine measures are posing manifold logistical challenges on crew rotation, our crewing department is working relentlessly to manage crew change as smoothly as possible.”

Fleet says that it is continuing to explore charter flight possibilities to solve the crew change and repatriation challenge. 

“A third of our seafarers are currently working at sea beyond their contractual lengths, but cannot return home due to the travel restriction. This has a direct bearing on their mental wellbeing," said Capt. Prashant Rangnekar, the COO of Fleet's Indian recruitment division, Elegant Marine Services. To help its employees in these challenging times, Fleet has launched a counseling hotline in partnership with Sailor's Society.