System-relevant seafarers: crew changes impossible due to Covid-19

Meanwhile 200.000 seafarers on ships affected / Worldwide supply in danger / Urgent appeal for the day of the seafarer


Freighter in the Kiel Canal off Sehestedt. Photo: Henze

For the International Seafarers' Day on June 25, 2020, the Association of German Shipowners (VDR) makes an urgent appeal to states that prevent seafarers from getting on and off their ships.

“It is an unsustainable condition that crew changes are still not allowed to an almost sufficient extent. We are concerned about our seafarers, their health and safety on board ships, ”says Alfred Hartmann, President of the VDR, and warned:“ If the situation does not change, logistics chains will break because ships cannot continue. Then supplies are also at risk for all of us, for example with food, raw materials or medication. ”

Alfred Hartmann, President Association of German Shipowners. Photo: VDR

More than 1,2 million seafarers serve around 55.000 merchant ships worldwide. Around 200.000 of them change every month because their service on board ends. This system has been inactive for a quarter of a year as a result of the corona pandemic. For a crew change, a port must allow seafarers to get on or off a ship. In addition, flights to the home of seafarers from an airport near the port are required, and seafarers must also be allowed to enter their home country. Conversely, replacements must arrive on board at the same time so that the ship can continue its journey. "In some ports, such as Europe, Hong Kong or Singapore, this is possible again," explains Hartmann. "But let us not be fooled: successful crew changes are still the exception, by no means the rule." Meanwhile, 200.000 seafarers are waiting for replacement on ships, another 200.000 on land for their deployment on board.

According to the VDR, shipping has done everything in its power with united forces and also with the unions. “With the help of the IMO, we gave all countries around the world a detailed procedure weeks ago that would make it possible to change crews even in Corona times. This solution costs no money and is easy to implement, "said the VDR President, emphasizing:" The problem is not the shipowners, but governments that do not implement these procedures. We urge them to finally lift travel restrictions and allow crew changes. Seafarers are systemically important. "

No chance of redemption. Photo: Henze

The concerns of the seafarers had recently received a lot of support. Pope Francis thanked her for her service and willingness to make sacrifices in a video message, while UN Secretary General António Guterres had warned of an "increasing humanitarian crisis". The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas assured the seafarers in a letter to the VDR that he would be able to classify them as systemically relevant beyond Germany: “We expressly support the commitment of the EU Commission and the IMO to ensure the ability of the ships and their crews to work. “Germany has asked its embassies to“ approach the local governments in order to promote the improvement of the conditions for arrival and departure in accordance with the recommendations of the IMO ”.              

Bremerhaven-Stromkaje: The quantities of cargo have also decreased. Photo: Henze

In Germany, crew changes have been possible in principle for a few weeks now. According to a recent VDR survey among member companies, however, more than 5.000 seafarers worldwide are currently waiting to leave their ship on German merchant ships.

VDR President Hartmann concludes: “Seafarers do an indispensable job for all of us by keeping us looked after. Allowing them to return home to their families is also a matter of appreciation for these people.


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