More than 300 companies and organisations have partnered to help resolve the crew change crisis, by signing the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of seafarers from across the globe have been left stranded working aboard ships beyond the expiry of their initial contracts and are unable to be relieved since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, at the peak of the crew change crisis in the autumn of 2020, the UN International Maritime Organization estimated that around 400.000 seafarers were on their ships beyond the expiry of their contract, while another 400.000 seafarers were unable to get to work.
Fatigue after long periods at sea has significant consequences on the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers. It also increases the risk of maritime incidents and environmental disasters, and poses a threat to the integrity of maritime supply chains, which carry 90% of global trade.
Despite significant efforts by international organizations, unions, companies and some governments to resolve the crew change crisis, not much development has occurred, as governments are imposing travel bans in response to the new strains of the COVID-19 virus.
The reason for this crisis being unresolved are numerous:
- National authorities around the world continue to see crew changes and international travel as a COVID-19 risk;
- High-quality health protocols are not being consistently implemented by ship operators;
- The disruption of international air travel has reduced the number of flights between traditional crew change hubs and major seafaring nations.
We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis at sea. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, seafarers have kept the world supplied with food, energy and other vital goods, with no line of sight of when to go home to their families. They have become hostage of the situation and unable to disembark from their ships. Yet, we can put an end to the crew change crisis without any risk to the general public health
stated Jeremy Nixon, CEO of ONE.
Commenting on these issues, the signatories of the Neptune Declaration believe that the most effective way of addressing the crew change challenge and building a more resilient maritime logistics chain, is by ”working together across the value chain with industry stakeholders, organizations and with governments to implement solutions that work in practice.”
For this reason, over 300 companies and organizations recognize their shared responsibility based on their roles across the entire maritime value chain, and beyond, to ensure that the crew change crisis is resolved as soon as possible. They have signed the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change that defines four main actions to facilitate crew changes and keep global supply chains functioning:
1. Recognize seafarers as key workers and give them priority access to Covid-19 vaccines
Governments and other stakeholders should work together with the maritime industry to ensure that seafarers, irrespective of their nationality, get priority access to Covid-19 vaccines alongside other key workers and health care professionals in recognition of their critical role in global supply chains and trade.
This should include developing protocols that ensure vaccinations are correctly certified and effectively administered to seafarers as well as establishing a standardized format for health passes that contain tamper proof information about vaccination and testing status to facilitate crew changes.
2. Establish and implement gold standard health protocols based on existing best practice
The maritime industry and governments should implement the Recommended Framework of Protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has been recognized by the International Maritime Organization.
To minimize the risk of Covid-19, to build trust that crew changes can be carried out in a safe manner, and to ensure that the measures taken can be universally accepted, the implementation of the Framework of Protocols should be based on the highest practicable standards. The STAR Crew Change Protocols, which are based on existing best practice, are thus recommended for industry-wide adoption.
3. Increase collaboration between ship operators and charterers to facilitate crew changes
Facilitating crew changes based on high-quality health protocols is a shared responsibility which will create benefits for all by minimizing the risk of Covid-19 spread on vessels, minimizing the risk of disruptions to global supply chains, while contributing to maritime safety and the wellbeing of seafarers.
Ship owners and charterers should share relevant information transparently and collaborate to ensure that necessary crew changes can be carried out with the least impact possible in terms of cost and delays. The owner should provide the charterer with as much notice as possible on intended crew changes, while the charterer should make all reasonable efforts to accommodate crew changes including when the vessel has to make a reasonable deviation.
No charter contracts should contain clauses preventing necessary crew changes from being carried out, as the aggregate effect of such clauses could be a serious obstacle to the safe operation of maritime trade and the protection of the wellbeing and rights of seafarers.
By implementing high-quality health protocols, ship owners can reduce the risk of trade disruption due to Covid-19, which also creates benefits to charterers. These benefits should be reflected in chartering decisions to create incentives for shipowners to implement high-quality health protocols and be transparent about actions taken as well as costs incurred.
4. Ensure air connectivity between key maritime hubs for seafarers
The aviation industry should work together with the maritime industry to ensure that airlift capacity is established between major crew changing hubs and seafaring nations.
Additionally, the aviation and maritime industries as well as governments – involving all relevant ministries and agencies – should work together to establish a universally accepted and harmonized framework of standards for the validation of trusted health data for seafarers to facilitate border crossing and ensure the long-term resilience of air connectivity.
Seafarers play a significant role in the global race to halt the coronavirus pandemic by providing critical medical supplies to the world’s population, particularly in developing economies. They are crucial to millions of peoples’ wellbeing. We call on our peers, government bodies and other stakeholders to join us in our efforts to ensure that the rights and wellbeing of the frontline workers of global supply chains are respected
added Graham Westgarth, Chairman of V. Group.
The Neptune Declaration has been developed by a taskforce of stakeholders from across the maritime value chain including:
- A. M. Nomikos;
- Dorian LPG;
- Global Maritime Forum;
- International Chamber of Shipping;
- International Maritime Employers’ Council;
- International Transport Workers’ Federation;
- Philippine Transmarine Carriers;
- Sustainable Shipping Initiative;
- Synergy Group;
- V. Group;
- World Economic Forum.