The IMO is set to again focus attention on the challenges of crew changes at the United Nations on World Maritime Day, September 24. With the IMO renewing its call for member states to take action, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority released further enhancements to its crew change protocols.
Singapore has been among the most responsive to the challenges of facilitating crew changes during the pandemic. For a brief period during the summer Singapore restricted crew changes when it appeared there were situations of abuse of the rules and new clusters of the virus. Recently, it has been enhancing the rules and established dedicated accommodations for in and outbound crew.
In a marine circular dated September 22, the MPA reviews the requirements and revised the protocols for sign-on crew including those who have previously had a positive COVID-19 test. Among the most significant changes, Singapore is reducing or ending the stay at home requirement for sign-on crew coming from a defined list of low risk countries and regions. In general, sign-on crew has been required to isolate at home for 14 days before traveling to Singapore to board an outbound ship. Now, depending on the country of origin, that rule is being waved or reduced to seven days.
Arriving crew are still required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72-hours of departure and a fit to travel letter from a doctor. They also should not arrive in Singapore more than two days before their ship is due to depart. Crew members can stay for up to 72 hours on shore in the designated accommodations. In addition, they are instructed to remain in small groups of not more than five people while traveling.
Singapore also has established protocols for crew members who previously tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who tested positive within the last 21 days are not approved for crew changes but a positive test within 22 and 90 days does not require a stay at home period or COVID-19 test before arrival. Up to 180 days requires the 14-day isolation but not a COVID-19 test. Beyond six months requires both the isolation and a new COVID-19 test.
Crew sign-offs are permitted so long as the crew has not been off the vessel for 14 days, is certified by a doctor, and the MPA will facilitate a pre-departure COVID-19 test. Singapore has also arranged designated accommodations for crew members who cannot go directly from the ship to a departing airplane.
On September 21, during an extraordinary session of the Maritime Safety Committee, the IMO again passes a resolution calling on all governments to take urgent action to resolve the humanitarian and safety crisis faced by the international shipping community. The IMO has been using the UN’s annual general assembly as a new opportunity to call attention to the need for further action to address the barriers the pandemic created.
Shipowners and operators have continued to cite the challenges and need to address the issue. For example, yesterday, the head of Cyprus’ shipping association speaking to local media said the challenges for crew changes are getting worse endangering the flow of goods.
Experts continue to estimate that as many as 300,000 crew members remain stuck on their vessels unable to travel home due to restrictions or the inability to get replacements to the ship.
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