News Bulletin – 11 July 2020

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1. Countries, including the Philippines, agree to help seafarers marooned at sea due to coronavirus.

10 July 2020 : A dozen countries including the United States, Britain and Singapore agreed on Thursday to speed up efforts to get hundreds of thousands of stranded merchant sailors home after they had been at sea for many months due to the coronavirus.

Some 200,000 seafarers are affected, with COVID-19 travel restrictions make it almost impossible to rotate crews, according to the UN’s International Maritime Organization. Many have been at sea for longer than an 11-month limit laid out in a maritime labour convention

Shipping industry officials say many sailors are at breaking point, in a situation the United Nations has described as a “humanitarian crisis”. Maritime welfare charities have warned of an increase in suicides. In a virtual summit hosted by Britain, representatives of Denmark, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United States agreed to open up foreign borders for seafarers and increase the number of commercial flights to speed up repatriation efforts, a UK government statement said.

2. Governments Pledge Crew Change Action.

10 July 2020 : A dozen countries have have committed to facilitate crew changes and achieve key worker designation for seafarers, following a virtual ministerial summit hosted by the U.K. government on Thursday, marking progress to help resolve a growing crisis facing the maritime industry, and enable hundreds of thousands of stranded seafarers to go home or join ships.

The inability of ship operators worldwide to conduct ship’s crew changes is the single most pressing maritime operational challenge to the safe and efficient movement of global trade,” representatives from 12 countries said in a joint statement expressing their concern about the current crisis.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and border closures imposed by Governments around the world have caused significant hurdles to crew changes and left hundreds of thousands of seafarers stranded onboard ships, or unable to join ships. It is currently estimated that at least 200,000 seafarers worldwide are stranded on ships and require immediate repatriation, and a similar number urgently need to join ships to replace them. This has led to a growing humanitarian crisis, in addition to concerns that seafarer fatigue and mental health issues may lead to serious maritime accidents. There are also concerns about the continuity of the global supply chain.

3. Crew welfare crisis: Less than a third of seafarers repatriated.

9 July 2020 : ONLY 30% of necessary crew changes are taking place despite many much-lauded measures to repatriate an estimated 300,000 exhausted seafarers whose contracts have expired but cannot leave their vessels. Unco-operative authorities, country intake limits, and governments refusing to allow airlines to fly crews to and from their countries of origin continue to stymie crew changes against the backdrop of the coronavirus curbs.

There is a lot of bullshit going on,” said Capt Kuba Syzmanski, director-general of shipmanager lobby group InterManager, whose members manage 30% of the world’s vessels and provide about 90% of crews. He cited difficulties moving seafarers through the crucial hubs of the United Arab Emirates and Philippines even though both countries claimed to have established measures that facilitate transfers.

For the past three weeks, the top guys in the UAE were saying ‘yeah, no problems, you can do the crew change’,” Capt Syzmanski told Lloyd’s List. “But the local guys at the borders were not allowing what the top guys were saying. What is amazing for us is that they are allowing tourists in, but they don’t allow seafarers in. They were allowing seafarers out. But you cannot sign somebody off if he is not relieved.”

4. As shipments slip, 3 ships enter layup, nearly 100 crew members laid off.

9 July 2020 : Three freighters in the Great Lakes Fleet will be pulled from service and the combined crews of almost 100 will be laid off as the COVID-19 pandemic roils the shipping industry. Key Lakes Inc., which operates the Great Lakes Fleet for Canadian National Railway, will lay up its Philip R. Clarke, Edgar B. Speer and Roger Blough lakers until the demand for the goods it usually moves up and down the Great Lakes, such as iron-ore pellets, returns.

The layoffs total 94 employees and went into effect July 3, Timothy Callahan of Keystone Shipping Co., the Pennsylvania-based owner of Key Lakes, said in a letter that Duluth Mayor Emily Larson received Thursday and shared with the News Tribune on Wednesday. “(Key Lakes) was unable to provide a greater amount of advance notice of these layoffs, due to unforeseeable business circumstances relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the economic decline relating to that pandemic,” Callahan wrote.

5. Wests seafarers on the challenges and rewards of a career at sea.

8 July 2020 : Any seafarer will tell you that it’s an incredibly demanding job at the best of times. The isolation of long periods at sea or at distant ports with little infrastructure hits home hard on #DayOfTheSeafarer. On this day in particular it is especially important that we show our appreciation for the women and men who have taken up this vocation.

There are lots of ex-seafarers working at West. To celebrate Day of the Seafarer those in West’s Loss Prevention department shared their experiences of life at sea. Amongst our seafarers, one particularly stressful aspect is navigation in coastal waters and high-density traffic areas. One of the areas of highest density marine traffic in the world is the South China Sea, with a high number of fishing vessels. Local traditions in South East Asia have added to the complexity and stress for mariners, as Dean Crossley, a Senior Loss Prevention Officer who worked on general cargo, bulk carriers, containers as well as ro-ros during his career at sea, explained:

There’s a superstition in parts of South East Asia amongst fishing communities which brings about a phenomena where a fishing vessel will steam towards another and try to cross as close to the bow as they can to cut off their bad luck. You can imagine the sense of panic when you have 20 fishing boats all gunning for you.”

6. ‘Brought back 20,000 seafarers, sent 9,000 to join new jobs on foreign-flag ships’: Amitabh Kumar.

7 July 2020 : The closure of ports and airlines has impacted the shipping sector in many ways. Director General of Shipping Amitabh Kumar discusses the changes and challenges. Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the shipping industry? Cruise ships have been badly impacted because entire cruise activity has stopped for one season at least and seafarers have faced difficulties in repatriation. It is with great difficulty that they have been brought back. Merchant shipping has four-five broad components like container ships, tankers – oil tankers and chemical tankers – and there are bulk vessels used for iron, coal etc. India’s steel exports have increased during this period, so the bulk sector has done fairly well. Similarly, oil prices came down substantially and there was high demand for oil.

People purchased oil and did not have enough storage facilities on land, so all these tanker vessels have become floating storage around the world. So tankers are also doing very well. Container vessels suffered because of the blockage in the hinterland. The containers usually move from hinterland to port, and from there to ship. However, because trucks were not functioning at the optimal level, factories were closed, so both the consumption side and the production side were impacted, plus the ground transportation. In India, we have tried to replace road transport with railways to the extent possible. Container segment is working at around 80 per cent of capacity. That’s the impact on trade.

7. IMO urges seafarers be granted access to medical care onshore.

7 July 2020 : International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary-general Kitack Lim has endorsed a series of recommendations designed to ensure seafarers can quickly and safely access medical care ashore. The ‘Recommendations for port and coastal States on the prompt disembarkation of seafarers for medical care ashore during the Covid-19 pandemic’ have been developed by a broad cross section of global industry associations together with the IMO.

They are designed to provide guidance on how the relevant authorities in port and coastal States can ensure access for seafarers to urgently needed medical care. The guidance covers any medical situation but also when a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 is involved. It includes advice on monitoring for signs or symptoms of Covid-19 prior to disembarkation, isolation of suspected or confirmed cases; the use of personal protective equipment (PPE); and minimizing risks of infection during disembarkation and transfer to a medical facility.

Seafarers’ health and wellbeing “are as important as that of anyone else,” Lim said. “Now is time for governments around the world to deliver for seafarers, by ensuring they can access medical care without delay, whenever they need it.” The IMO chief has urged all Member States to implement the recommendations and share them with the relevant authorities.

8. Philippines : Nearly 70K overseas Filipinos back home, says Department of Foreign Affairs.

6 July 2020 : THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)facilitated the return of almost 10,000 overseas Filipinos (OFs) last week, bringing the total number of repatriated OFs to 68,440 since it began bringing home Covid-19-displaced migrant workers in February 2020.

Of the total number, 51.23 percent (35,059 OFs) are sea-based and 48.77 percent (33,381 OFs) are land-based, with the most recent repatriates arriving from Barbados, the Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United States on Friday. The DFA said it is committed to bring home more Filipinos from the Middle East, having facilitated six flights from Saudi Arabia and seven flights from the UAE which repatriated 1,630 and 2,208 fellow Filipinos, respectively. The DFA also assisted in the safe return of 887 Filipinos from Kuwait and Oman. Sea-based OFs from all over the world likewise continue to come home as the DFA welcomed repatriated seafarers from Panama, Costa Rica, Barbados, UK, Germany, Norway, Canada, and Singapore this week.

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