Crew Change Challenges, Press Release by Safety4Sea

The unresolved crew change crisis remains a hot topic of discussion, with many seafarers remaining stranded on seas. The difficulties surrounding repatriation and crew changes have a major impact on crew welfare and the whole industry expresses its concern about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers around the world, urging all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”.

Press Release by Safety4Sea

Crew Change Challenges

Nikos D. Marmatsouris, Group Senior Marketing Manager, GAC Shipping SA provided an overview of the Crew Change situation and highlighted other challenges due to the pandemic for shipping, such as there is no international standard for regulations, health officials/ authorities do not fully understand how shipping works, there is huge bureaucracy and regulations change every day. The lack of international flights has make it difficult to impossible to resolve the crew change crisis, he highlighted. Although various maritime organizations are trying to assist seafarers by pleading to governments to consider them as ‘key workers’; most countries in the Middle East and Far East make it difficult, especially now with the Indian variant. With crew staying onboard for extended periods, new initiatives have been introduced for seafarers’ mental wellbeing, he noted and referred to few of them.

Crew Change Panel

The unresolved crew change crisis remains a hot topic of discussion, with many seafarers remaining stranded on seas. The difficulties surrounding repatriation and crew changes have a major impact on crew welfare and the whole industry expresses its concern about the growing humanitarian and safety crisis facing seafarers around the world, urging all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as “key workers”. As of May 20th, IMO has received 60 notifications from IMO Member States and Associate Members that they have designated seafarers as key workers.

The panel was moderated by Kostas Katsoulieris, Senior Executive, North P&I Club and included the following participants: Constantinos Galanakis, CEO, Elvictor Group; Nikos D. Marmatsouris, Group Senior Marketing Manager, GAC Shipping SA; Georgios Moniodis, Crew & Training Manager, Prime Marine; George Pitaoulis, Crewing Manager, ABC Maritime; Christos Sialakoumas, Crew Manager, Dorian LPG and; Nikos Toumazatos, Crew Manager, Latsco Marine Management Inc.

Experts of this panel referred to the many challenges that the pandemic has brought. Shipping industry had been struggling with manning crisis as there was inability to recruit and retain people, with mental health and fatigue even before COVID-19. The pandemic made the situation worse and now, on the one hand, we face global restrictions and on the other, challenging regulatory updates. There are also heightened risks of fatigue and maritime accidents, denial of access to medical facilities and overall, due to crew change crisis, seafarers remain stuck onboard for many months. A big problem is that people outside the industry may not be able to realize what this means. As such, along with challenges the pandemic also brought opportunities for harmonization of procedures, focus on seafarers’ important role and designate them as key workers, collaboration among different stakeholders and across different sectors, embracing digitalization. Unfortunately, uncertainty prevails – some ports are open while others not, there are green lanes but countries such as China prohibit crew change – all these are making the situation even more difficult for the seafarers, extending the crew change crisis. Also, the experts provided feedback on their relationship with charterers which was challenged significantly during the pandemic; everyone faced difficulties as they had to cope with unexpected medical issues, but the pandemic taught us some very valuable lessons to move forward, such as: shipping is a global industry and we need to think out of the box in order to face any emergencies; shipping is evolving, thus we need to improvise and keep pushing to make noise and communicate issues.

  1. What were/are the key challenges of this pandemic for crew changes? Do you see any opportunities or positive developments arising out of this pandemic?

I want to congratulate Safety4Sea for this initiative, the panel of speakers taking part, and special thanks to our coordinator, Mr. Katsoulieris.

Highlighting the Key Challenges:

  • Global Restrictions versus Regulatory Compliance
  • Logistics Complexity and Defaults
  • Crew Changes Inelasticity
  • Risk concerning fatigue and maritime accidents
  • Global Supply Chains and Economies impact

Opportunities that may be found are:

  • Harmonization of procedures
  • Focus on Key Workers “Our Seafarers”
  • Collaboration amongst different economic sectors

Positive Developments that may arise:

  • Creation and Update of Protocols set out
  • Airline industry focusing on the shipping industry challenges
  • Complexity of logistics shift to digitalization focus
  1. Despite various initiatives, it appears that collaboration between charterers and managers still lags on the crew change issue and matters related generally to crew. Why do you think this is? Any thoughts on how to create better cooperation?

Collaboration between charterers and managers lags due to

  • Charterers’ inelastic requirements related to highly sophisticated recruitment procedures especially in the Tanker sector.
  • Inelasticity in the governing procedures set by maritime organizations put obstacles
  • Charterers’ risk management do not allow “procedural deviations”

Better cooperation

  • New rules and protocols should be developed and/or amended based on pandemic situations
  • Harmonization of some procedures and Protocols related to crew recruitment in general and not only in crew changes
  1. In your view, has the industry handled the COVID-19 crisis effectively with respect to crew changes so far? What are the lessons learned? Where could we improve in the future? Were there any parties in the chain that were especially innovative and/or helpful/key to managing the crisis?

Has the industry handled the COVID-19 crisis effectively?

I believe most industries and Economic Sectors around the world FAILED TO DO SO.
The maritime industry is the MOST HIGHLY REGULATED INDUSTRY with

  • Colossal Complexity of Compliances
  • Continuous amendments on various regulations
  • Differing Protocols
  • Non-harmonized operational procedures

Many companies strive to attain performance and global adjustments, through Innovation and Internal restructuring.

The above is forming a New Maritime Era and assisting the maritime mentality to change.

Managing the crisis more efficiently in any future situation should be a “lesson learned” to continuously improve our operations to “remain proactive” to any future scenario or situation.

  1. The increase of COVID-19 in India is currently a new alarming issue. How could this disrupt ship operations? What does the industry need to do to protect itself from further harmful implications of the pandemic?

Disruption of ship operations may arise from:

  • geopolitical tensions
  • trade tensions
  • re-routed shipments
  • stranded seafarers
  • maritime defaults (Suez Canal)
  • environmental incidents
  • regulatory pressures

The industry in order to protect itself should:

  • improve operational performance
  • focus on digitalization to overcome complexity of logistics
  • focus on sustainable development
  • exchange information and be more collaborative with all peers of the sector.
  1. What are your suggestions in order for ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew vaccinations, travel and crew changes?

Some suggestions for ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew vaccinations, travel and crew changes may be:

  • Proactive Scheduling for crew changes
  • Collaboration Protocols between Ship Operators and Charterers
  • Elasticity in the compliance that concerns “last-minute crew changes” or “crew welfare” scenarios
  • Soft skills and training of seafarers
  • Supporting the seafarers and more social responsibility from all parties

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