News Bulletin – 1 August 2020

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1. 40000+ Filipino Seafarers Repatriated In July.

31 July 2020 : The Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) reported that they have single-handedly repatriated more than 40,000 Filipino seafarers in July alone. On Wednesday, another 1,000 OFWs, mostly seafarers from the cruise industry, were repatriated from Singapore.

On the ground, reporters stated that another 325 Filipinos, mostly from Singapore, entered the Philippines on Monday. This was later confirmed by the Philippine Embassy in Singapore. Singapore is a major seaport in South-East Asia and serves as one of the biggest concentrations of Philipino seafarers in the world.

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore has corresponded with some 705 Filipino seafarers and crew manning agencies, arranging 15 repatriation flights to facilitate their homecoming. The embassy said it is looking to organize another repatriation flight “in the next few weeks.” Regularly check the official Facebook page of the Embassy for further details.” said an embassy official.

2. Greece aims to liberalise wages for seafarers on national-flag vessels.

31 July 2020 : The Greek government caught the country’s parliament by surprise on 29 July when it tabled a draft amendment that would liberalise the labour and remuneration framework for lower crew serving on board Greek-flagged merchant ships, a long-standing demand by the country’s Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS).

The amendment was previously unannounced, and caused a minor stir in Parliament with some left wing parties charging the amendment if approved would introduce ‘galley wages’ on Greek-flagged ships.

At present, the current wage scales and other collective bargaining provisions for lower-ranked crew-members, as prescribed in domestic labour law for Greek-flagged vessels, would give way to the lower pay scales which are internationally recognised and applied in collective bargaining agreements.

3. India : Hope rekindles for sailors as shipping firms start hiring.

30 July 2020 : For the more than 8,000 seafarers who have returned home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hope for overseas employment has begun to surface with global shipping companies commencing recruitment. Over the past 20 days, a number of shipping firms based in Mumbai have begun the signing on – and signing off – process by chartering international flights from different countries.
That the sector is picking up is evident as around half a dozen medical clinics in Goa that conduct tests on seafarers before they board vessels of their respective shipping companies are buzzing with activity.

Divine Medical Centre in Margao, which provides the service for more than 46 foreign merchant shipping companies, has already tested over 422 seafarers, some of whom have left Goa to board their respective vessels. “All of them underwent tests for Covid-19, too, and were found to be negative,” clinic head, Dr Phillip Mascarenhas, said.

4. Australia : Urgent calls for seafarers stuck on ships due to COVID-19 to be brought home.

30 July 2020 : At any one time, there are up to 19 massive bulk carriers being loaded in Port Hedland, the world’s biggest iron ore port, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region. Their crew is a largely invisible workforce, but one that is vital for Australia’s economy.

But unions have warned a global crew changing crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic is putting lives, and future trade, at risk. “Without these seafarers, and they are small by number, but without them Australia’s economy will collapse imminently,” said Dean Summers, the national coordinator for the International Transport Workers Federation in Australia.

An estimated 300,000 seafarers around the world have not been able to leave ships and return when their contracts ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine measures, and a lack of flights, have left many crew members at sea for up to 14 months.

5. Dubai witnesses crew change of 3,000 seafarers within its territorial waters with joint efforts of DMCA and GDRFA.

29 July 2020 : Completing the success of the cooperation between the Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs – Dubai (GDRFA) to facilitate ships’ crew change, 3,000 seafarers have been recently registered within Dubai territorial waters, comprising 1700 sign on and 1300 sign off since DMCA announced the resumption of crew change.

It is a remarkable achievement for Dubai, which is allowing crew change, offering a safe haven for those stranded on board their ships for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After DMCA’s decision to resume the procedures allowing for changing ships’ crews in ports and anchorage areas within the territorial waters of Dubai, it has witnessed growth in marine activities, while maintaining full compliance with the Dubai Health Authority and ensuring confirmed flights from the UAE.

Competent authorities continue to receive hundreds of requests to change crews of different nationalities, in close coordination with DMCA, the port authorities, the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship, airlines, and continue to work with the Dubai Health Authority to facilitate the precautionary measures which will enable the crews to sign on and off from the ship as a top priority.

6. ‘It’s inhumane.’ Cruise workers may have to forgo shore visits.

29 July 2020 : For crew members who work 11-hour days aboard cruise ships without weekends, “shore leave” – a few hours each week spent on land – provides a necessary break from the stress of ship life.

When a list of new protocols from the Swiss company MSC Cruises titled “Life on board during Covid-19” began circulating on social media earlier this month, it included a ban on shore leave except for emergencies. Current and past crew members questioned whether the protocols were real. “If it’s true that would really be unbearable,” one crew member said in a message to the Herald.

The list is real. A spokesperson for MSC Cruises confirmed in an email that crew will not be allowed to get off the ships unless there’s an emergency during the company’s “initial phased restart”. The company qualified that it would not restart until “the time is right to do so and we receive the approval from the relevant local health and other authorities – including the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the US – to our new health and safety operating protocol.”

7. Last Of 2 Kidnapped Seafarers From Tanker Vessel Return To India.

28 July 2020 : After almost 3 weeks, the last 2 seafarers who had been captured during the hijacking of an oil tanker returned to India. The tanker, named MT Gulf Sky, had been hijacked on July 5, as per UN reports. The hijackers told the seafarers to steer the ship for the Iranian mainland.

After the hijackers brought the ship to the port of Bandar Abbas, most of the crew members had been brought back to India. Only 2 seafarers- namely the Chief Engineer and another crewmember remained in Tehran, due to the absence of their passports.

Joginder Singh, who was the captain of the oil tanker when it was abducted, disclosed a few days back that the two had safely landed on Indian soil. The crew have been in fear of their lives,” said David Hammond, who is the Chief Executive of Human Rights at Sea.

8. Crew change crisis all at sea in search of a global solution.

28 July 2020 : SEAFARERS working for medium-sized or small companies may find themselves staying on board for months after their contracts expire, given that the crew change crisis shows no signs of being resolved any time soon.

Those companies with global networks and deep pockets are starting to find ways round the situation, even if that means chartering planes or using the company jet to fly seafarers home when no commercial airline services are available, having already determined which ports are the most amenable for crew changes in the current circumstances. Container lines, with their scheduled services, are probably in the best position of all.

Smaller owners, operators and managers, however, are struggling to navigate the myriad of immigration and quarantine demands that are constantly changing, and then can barely afford the onward travel costs for crew members who need to be repatriated. It was a nightmare,” according to one source directly involved in the changeover of a ship’s entire crew earlier this month.

9. Charity for seafarers stuck on ships at port.

27 July 2020 : Socks, a basketball and jars of Nutella are among the items that have been given to crew on ships docked in Liverpool in the coronavirus crisis. Since March, many ports have not allowed crew changes or shore leave, so thousands stay stuck on their ships.

John Wilson, from Liverpool Seafarers Centre, said: “Sometimes they’re the forgotten workforce, who bring 95% of our goods and services into the UK. “If it wasn’t for them, the country would grind to a halt in three weeks.” Ships have come to Liverpool from as far as India, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines, and the crews may have been at sea for up to a year.

Peel Ports, the owner of Liverpool docks, has said it is “more important than ever before to keep supply chains open”. Captain Leszek Misiun, on the RMS Veritas, said: “To keep a safe vessel, we don’t go ashore so the crew is actually isolated on board.” The charity Liverpool Seafarers Centre has been offering support through the crisis, checking in on about 3,000 seafarers and providing items such as toothpaste, toiletries and chocolate.

10. Singapore beefs up safety measures for crew change.

27 July 2020 : The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has announced enhanced safety measures in Singapore port amid the ongoing risks of importing coronavirus (COVID-19) cases into the country.

Singapore has seen three cases within one week, where crew members scheduled to sign-on to ocean-going cargo ships were found to be COVID-19 positive upon arrival. This has prevented the shipping companies concerned from conducting successful crew changes.

MPA said it is now working with the industry taskforce to provide more detailed guidelines on the ‘safe-corridor’ procedures to safeguard the crew change process including the need to self-isolate while serving the 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN), to ensure accurate COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, and direct transfers from airport to ship for the crew while in Singapore to minimise contact.

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