Top Ship Manager Blasts Port States for Blocking Crew Change

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Published Sep 19, 2021 7:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

While the shipping industry is putting increasing attention and focus on decarbonization, the crew change crisis has not ended, and vessel operations are still heavily dependent on thousands of dedicated seafarers. Their efforts are particularly visible at congested container ports: as of Sunday, 71 container ships were waiting to berth at busy terminals in Long Beach and Los Angeles, with 71 crews tending to their engines and equipment.

In a recent post on LinkedIn, Anglo-Eastern Univan Group CEO Bjorn Hojgaard lamented what he described as “shameful” treatment of crewmembers by port states.

“The way we treat seafarers in 2021 is absolutely shameful. Since the pandemic started, the crewing departments the world over have scrambled to facilitate crew change against increasingly difficult odds. Seafarers at home are often unable to get a contract, perhaps because they live in a country with high COVID load. And seafarers onboard are increasingly being treated as pariahs, despite the fact that they have kept the global supply chain we call shipping functioning throughout the pandemic - to the immense benefit to people and nations everywhere,” said Hojgaard.

“It’s not the shipowners and ship managers who are being difficult. They are doing everything in their power to execute crew change against a constantly changing but increasingly impossible background,” he added. “The real culprits here are the ports and nations who decide that, yes, they want the ships and their cargo, but no, they do not allow crew change. Not on my doorstep! You can do that somewhere else, thank you very much!”

Whereas the COVID pandemic has exacerbated the dire experiences of the seafarers, it has also highlighted longstanding, systemic issues of seafarer welfare. The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report by Mission to Seafarers paint a harrowing picture: The report recounts a comment by one seafarer saying, “This is not a profession for freshers.” Another one says, “We have broken sleep, broken systems, and people feeling broken too.”

Crucially, the report finds that seafarers happiness levels declined in the second quarter to 5.99/10, compared to 6.46 in quarter one. (The results are obtained from an average score across 10 questions in a survey.)

Meanwhile, a new research paper by Peter Vandergeest in the journal Marine Policy finds an even grimmer experience for seafarers in the fishing industry. “The basis for longer term marginalization includes the exclusion of fishing from the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), the marginal status of fishing among global organizations concerned with seafarers, the dispersed ownership of fishing vessels compared to concentrated corporate ownership in shipping, lack of unionization and frequent inaccessibility of consular assistance in fishing ports,” concluded Vandergeest and his coauthors.

In essence, seafarers in distant water fishing are marginalized compared to seafarers in other sectors in ways that are long term and systemic. Unless efforts to improve working conditions on fishing vessels address the exclusion from MLC, seafarers in the fishing industry will still face considerable hardship, even after COVID-19 pandemic has ended, the authors concluded.