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Unions Launch Quarantine Network to Reduce New Crew Change Crisis

quarantine hotel network to ease crew change restrictions
Crew undergoing strict precautions for a change operation in 2020 (Philippines Ports AUthority)

Published Dec 15, 2021 6:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Seeking to preempt a possible new wave for the crew change crisis as governments around the world respond to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the major maritime unions announced the launch of a new initiative to provide a network of quarantine facilities. The groups said the program is urgently needed to avoid the shipping industry returning to the worst extremes of the crew change crisis, which saw 400,000 seafarers aboard vessels beyond their initial contracts in late 2020.

Named “#CrewEQUIP,” the program will create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed and inspected by Lloyd’s Register, the program’s external auditor. The effort is designed to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having consistent standards and industry-best protocols in place, to safely get crew to vessels even if governments increase their quarantine requirements.

“This new quarantine facility program will give industry more confidence to support the movement of more seafarers more regularly around the world safe in the knowledge that there is a considerably less risk of Covid-19 being introduced to a vessel if a seafarer has joined via a CrewEquip-approved facility,” says Captain Belal Ahmed Chairman of International Maritime Employers Council. 

The union organizations are noting that governments have made the movement of crew on and off ships far from easy with a variety of changing regulations and inconsistent standards around the globe. Some regions around the globe, for example in Singapore and the Philippines, previously successfully used quarantine facilities to ease some of the restrictions and provide a clear program to handle the movement of crew on and off ships.

The Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Program (#CrewEQUIP) is a partnership between the International Maritime Employers’ Council, the International Chamber of Shipping, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Collectively, the organizations represent more than 80 percent of the global merchant fleet and nearly one million international seafarers through almost 200 affiliated unions.

For November, the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator, which tracks crew change statistics with data from the major staffing and shipping companies, reported strong progress in reducing the number of crew at sea near the end or beyond their contracts. The latest Indicator showed that the number of seafarers on board vessels beyond the expiry of their contract has decreased to 4.7 percent from 7.1 percent in October. The number of seafarers on board vessels for over 11 months had also decreased to under one percent, with the organizers reporting that these were the lowest numbers recorded by the NDCCI since it was first published in May 2021.

While the unions believe the global network of quarantine facilities will help manage crew access, they also continue to call for a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition. The groups also welcomed the announcement this week of a new joint WHO-ILO-industry action group to advance digital “yellow cards” for seafarers and other workers who need to cross borders for their jobs.