Many stranded crew members said governments should do more to accommodate crew changes. “Ports and countries want the cargo, but when it comes to the crew who are bringing the cargo to them, they are not helping us,” said Nilesh Mukherjee, the chief officer on a tanker carrying liquid petroleum gas, who is from India.
Even in normal times, replacing a crew member involves complex logistics, said Frederick Kenney, director of legal and external affairs at the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency that oversees global shipping.
Leaving a ship, and getting home, requires more than just disembarking. It usually involves multiple border crossings, flights with at least one connection, and a slew of certificates, specialized visas and immigration stamps. A crew member’s replacement has to go through the same steps.
Every step in that procedure is “broken” because of the pandemic, with flights limited, border controls tightened and many consulates closed, according to Mr. Kenney. While some countries have found ways around the problem, “the rate of progress is not keeping up with the growing backlog of seafarers,” he said last week.
Some ports have exempted crew members from border restrictions, then backtracked after seafarers, arriving from their home countries to report for duty on a ship, were found to have Covid-19.
Hong Kong exempted sea as well as airline crews from a 14-day quarantine requirement, but it changed those rules in July, after the exemptions were blamed for a surge in case numbers. In Singapore, too, protocols were tightened after seafarers tested positive for the virus on arrival.