IMO lifts restrictions, approves protocols for crew change, repatriation


…NSWB pledges extra pay for Nigerian seafarers

In view of the significant challenges confronting the global shipping industry to effect crew changes, the IMO has recommended a framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The organisation has remained committed to minimizing disruptions to trade and global supply chains, and has identified the need to prioritize keeping air and sea logistics networks open and functioning efficiently.

According to a circular letter cited by M&P Nigeria with reference No.4204/Add.14 and dated May 5, 2020, Secretary General, Kitack Lim acknowledged that “This critical issue is increasingly taking on a humanitarian dimension for those crews which have already spent many months at sea and which urgently need to be repatriated to their home countries and replaced.”

The international protocol requires that each month about 150,000 seafarers need to be changed over to and from the ships which they operate to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations for ensuring safety, crew health and welfare, and the prevention of fatigue.

Lim said that shipping companies and airlines are cooperating to meet this priority by ensuring that reliable operations are able to continue throughout the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

He however warned that these networks will grind to a halt if replacement ship crews are unavailable for duty due to the lack of available flights and other restrictions affecting the travel and movement of ship crews.

Therefore, after consultations with a broad cross section of global industry associations representing the maritime transportation sector, the IMO proposed several recommendations to Member States about measures to facilitate ship crew changes in seaports.

In the proposed framework, governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to “designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality when in their jurisdiction, as “key workers” providing an essential service.”

“Grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships.’

The recommendations include “Accepting, among others, official seafarers’ identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer, as evidence of being a professional seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes.”

“Permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation.”

Furthermore, relevant authorities are expected to “Implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation”, in addition to “Providing information to ships and crews on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice.”

The Secretary-General declared his support for these protocols which he said se out general measures and procedures that should, so far as practicable, be implemented by Governments and all stakeholders concerned – although these can be modified as appropriate – to facilitate safe ship crew changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.and urged their implementation.

He noted that the recommendations were addressed to maritime administrations and, as appropriate, in liaison with Governments – relevant national authorities including health, Customs, Immigration, Border control, Seaport and Civil aviation authorities.

Lim called on Governments and their relevant national authorities to do everything possible to facilitate ship crew changes for shipping companies and shipowners who demonstrate broad complaince with measures that may be applicable to them in the Framework.

The IMO scribe also advised that some of the recommendations might not be appropriate for every company, and that the extent of implementation will also depend on the circumstances that may prevail at the time in the seafarer’s country of residence or the place where the crew change is taking place, or other arrangements that shipping companies may have made with national authorities.

Meanwhile, the National Seafarers Welfare Board (NSWB) Nigeria has assured that seafarers on board ships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that they would receive wages due them for the extra days.

Chairman, NSWB, Kunle Folarin, stated this while responding to the fears of some Nigerian seafarers.

During the virtual meeting, Folarin, who addressed the challenges and fears of Nigerian seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic, expressed the readiness of the board to provide assistance to Nigerian seafarers facing any kind of difficulties presently, saying seafarers who toil to keep the economic balance deserve their pays.

Where employers attempt to short-change seafarers, he urged victims of such ill treatment to lodge complaints directly to regulatory bodies, saying such matters would be dealt with decisively.

He explained that seafarers have a right to escalate such issues even to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) when they are not handled properly.


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