Charterers cannot easily force onerous terms on unwilling owners, but they can clearly state what ships they will not consider hiring even before negotiations begin. It is this aspect of charterers setting pre-contractual “requirements” that BIMCO has seen in relation to the crew change crisis,
...said BIMCO's Grant Hunter.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, travel restrictions have forced hundreds of thousands of seafarers to overrun their contracts, rising concerns over ship safety, crew fatigue and access to healthcare.
As explained, a minority of charterers may simply be looking the other way when they are presented with a ship that also happens to be in need of a crew change.
We don't expect charterers to foot the bill and we recognize that hiring ships is a matter of commercial negotiation - but we see no reason why charterers and owners should not have an open and honest dialogue to try to find a solution for much needed crew changes.
Feedback from BIMCO members indicates that in certain trades – notably dry cargo – some charterers are pushing back on ships that have had or will have a crew change within 14 days of the proposed date or delivery, or whose owners are planning a crew change during the voyage.
Without condoning this practice, these restrictions seem to be mainly applied to spot charters – single voyages usually of fairly short duration where the owners will generally know in advance the intended ports of call. A COVID-19-related delay on such a short voyage may have a significant impact on the commercial and contractual obligations of the charterers.
Longer term “period” time charters lasting many months or even over a year and where the ports of call are broadly encompassed by “worldwide trading” require a more pragmatic approach by charterers.
BIMCO’s COVID-19 Crew Change Clause was developed for such longer-term time charters, encouraging a sensible cooperative approach between owners and charterers to find a solution to the crew change issue.
But even if deviation of the ship is not possible, the Crew Change Clause still has an important role to play in getting owners and charterers to start a dialogue about essential crew changes under difficult circumstances, BIMCO stressed.
We cannot emphasis enough the importance of good dialogue. Owners should clearly explain to charterers their crew change plans and procedures and being open about any possible risk of delays. Charterers should respect that owners have been put in this situation by circumstances way beyond their control. It is only by working together with charterers that owners will be able to continue to provide the sustainable transportation services on which charterers are wholly reliant,