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Brussels urged to show leniency towards seafarers in face of European travel ban

The heads of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation have called for leniency from Brussels when it comes to Europe’s blanket travel ban in the wake of the spread of coronavirus. 

In a joint letter to the European Council, Marin Dorsman, ECSA secretary general and Livia Spera, ETF’s acting general secretary, wrote: “The shipping industry urgently needs special regulatory measures and actions to prevent a total collapse of seaborne trade to and from the EU.” 

European Union transport ministers are holding a video conference today. 

The ECSA and ETF heads called on ministers to allow crew changes in Europe, an increasingly pressing issue for global shipping that has been covered extensively by Splash as Covid-19 has spread around the world. 

The letter demands that seafarers be exempted from national travel bans, so that they can join their ships and keep the supply lines operating. They should also be treated pragmatically when returning home from their ships. “In these critical moments, much like medical staff and security forces, seafarers are key workers and need governments to recognise them as such and afford them special consideration,” the pair wrote. 

The letter also discussed the increasing need for seafarers to work beyond their contracts, asking flag and port states to apply a pragmatic approach to such situations and, on a case-by-case basis, permit crew members to remain onboard for a reasonable period beyond their scheduled tours of duty. Similarly leniency ought to be handed out in terms of certain seafarer training certificates expiring. 

In terms of daily shipping operations, the letter had some alarming details. 

“Several measures and developments are severely impacting ships’ operations globally. There are difficulties in finding medical supplies and shortage of mechanic and electronic parts for vessels. Traffic by sea between specific locations has now been stopped completely. Moreover, operational restrictions have been put in place on port calls. There is a significant increase in the number of vessels out of service due to strong operational limitations, lack of cargo or unavailability of crew,” the document stated. 

Among solutions sought, ECSA and ETF are seeking dry-docking extensions. 

“Since dry dock availability is severely limited due to precautionary measures to contain the virus, it becomes increasingly impossible for ships to dry dock in time if renewal of the certificate requires dry-docking. Flexibility by Flag States and Class Societies is required through an extension of the validity of the current certificates by at least three months,” the pair stated. 

The UK Chamber of Shipping has held similar dialogue this week with Britain’s maritime minister, while the International Chamber of Shipping is convening an emergency meeting to discuss how to resolve the crew change conundrum.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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