The first seafarers to benefit from the use of chartered flight to comply with the new crew change protocol, developed by the Singapore Crew Change Working Group (SGCCWG), finally disembarked the bulk carrier Genco Liberty at the Port of Singapore today. The signing off crew have completed their contracts onboard.
Neal De Roche, Executive Vice President, Wilhelmsen Ships Agency, said, “As an integral part of the Singapore Crew Change Working Group, (SGCCWG) we are very happy to now be coordinating the first full crew change, performed in line with the new crew change protocol we worked so hard to put together as part of the SGCCWG. It is encouraging to see how regulators, industry bodies, customers and indeed competitors now coming together to address such a critical matter, the welfare of seafarers. As port agents, we are committed to supporting the industry in any way we can to get our seafarers home, and new crews redeployed safely and efficiently.”
The nineteen-men Indian crew will now return home via a chartered flight from Singapore to Colombo and then on to India. Their colleagues made up of fourteen Sri Lankans and four Indian seafarers who arrived at Singapore from Sri Lanka early this morning, also via the same chartered flight, signed on the same day.
Captain Rajesh Unni, founder and CEO of ship management company, the Synergy Group, commented, “At Synergy Group we have desperately been trying to conduct crew changes since the outbreak of COVID-19. In early March, we proposed the idea of a safe corridor for seafarers to facilitate crew changes, founded an alliance of leading maritime companies in April to push for collective crew changes and most recently have been one of the participants in the Singapore Crew Change Working Group. It is no accident that this latest success has been achieved in partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore government who have been endlessly supportive and proactive. By enabling a full complement of Sri Lanka and Indian seafarers to join and disembark this GENCO Shipping & Trading bulk carrier, through this well planned and controlled changeover, they have shown the world that crew changeovers for seafarers of other nationalities are possible even during a pandemic.”
In the current environment, where the impact and restrictions relating to the pandemic remain fluid in many places, the expectation is that the coordination of crew change will continue to be a challenge.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crew change can take place in Singapore under procedures established by MPA. The new guidelines provide both predictability and a solid foundation for safe crew changes in substantially larger numbers than seen the last few months. In that regard, the new clear, consistent guidelines could become the blueprint for port authorities elsewhere when looking at reopening for crew changes.
For example, on-signers of the Genco Liberty were asked to remain in home quarantine for 14 days and tested negative for COVID-19 before their departure flight. They were met at the airport by an agent with a private transport that complied with safe distancing measures. Face masks and hand sanitisation were also provided for all arriving crew.
For the crew signing-off, an approved medical doctor certified that all crew members were fit-to-travel prior to sign-off. There was no sharing of passenger launch boats for crew and service engineers/technicians. The crew were conveyed in private transport that complied with safe distancing measures, and fresh face masks and hand sanitisation were provided for all crew before boarding the vehicles. The designated agent also reminded crew members that the donning of face masks is compulsory in Singapore.
Ms Quah Ley Hoon, Chief Executive of MPA, said, “Singapore continues to facilitate crew change under established procedures, in view of the ongoing pandemic. These procedures elaborated in the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook are the efforts of many stakeholders including many Singapore government agencies, the Singapore Shipping Association leading an industry taskforce, and the Singapore Maritime Officers Union. We are glad that together with Wilhelmsen and the Synergy Group, and by using a chartered flight, we have been able to help 37 crew members sign-on and sign off. Such chartered flights provide an effective means of crew change under the established procedures.”
The new crew change protocols published in the COVID-19 Singapore Crew Change Guidebook were developed in accordance with International Chamber of Shipping (ICS)’s Framework of Crew Change Protocol and MPA’s Port Marine Circular (PMC) 26 of 2020.
The guidebook is issued by MPA, Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU), and in cooperation with the International Maritime Employers’ Council Ltd (IMEC) and the World Shipping Council (WSC).