The new, probably more infectious variants of coronavirus that first surfaced in the UK and South Africa is impacting crew changes. The Philippine Ports Authority has banned crew changes until at least 15 January for ships coming from 21 countries, including the Netherlands, UK, US, Germany and France. It does not help to ease the already difficult situation, says the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR). 

The Philippines are not the only ones imposing such restrictions. Singapore now does the same for seafarers that have recently been to the UK or South Africa. The Philippines Ports Authority (PPA) is an important party because of the many Filipinos operating on ships around the world, while Singapore is also an important shipping and, thus, crew change hub.

The PPA warns more countries may be added to the list and the limitations may be prolonged after the 15 January. Singapore has not given an end date for the restrictions. Vessels that have already been at sea in the last two weeks will still be able to change their crews in the Philippines, but they will be subject to additional quarantine measures.

Humanitarian crisis

Crew changes were a serious problem for shipping during 2020 due to Covid-19, with many organisations calling it a humanitarian crisis. Some crews had to stay on board for months longer than planned. Although improvements were made during the year with seafarers designated as key workers, the situation was by no means fully resolved.

‘The measure has been in place since the beginning of last week and does not, of course, help to ease the already difficult situation,’ says KVNR spokesman Nathan Habers. ‘For our members, however, not many crew changes are taking place in the Philippines itself. And under the same measure, Filipino seafarers are allowed to return by air from the countries concerned (including the Netherlands), but then have to spend fourteen days in quarantine. Crew changes for those seafarers can thus still take place. That is a good thing.’

In December, Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen said that concerning ships sailing under the Dutch flag, more than 75 per cent of the overdue crew changes had then taken place.

Also read: ‘Shipping is being dealt heavy blows while crews suffer’ / ICS calls on Dutch government to facilitate crew changes / Airline KLM comes to the rescue of seafarers