Chartered flights see crew changes take off

Crew changes are beginning to filter in with two weeks to go until the final deadline set by seafarer unions comes into effect.

Chartered flights are now operating out of India, principally via Doha as well as Colombo, to take seafarers to ships around the world while in the Philippines, which today came out of one of the world’s longest and most strict lockdowns, flights are being made from the capital to Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, via a so-called safe transit corridor.

More than 200,000 seafarers are working at sea beyond their original contract lengths with many now onboard for more than a year, thanks to the travel restrictions put in place across the globe in the wake of the spread of coronavirus.

A SpiceJet plane took off from Mumbai on Sunday evening for Doha, carrying 63 seafarers (pictured) from six companies – Maersk Tankers, Mediterranean Shipping Company, BW Group, Synergy Marine, Nautilus Shipping and MMSI. From Doha, the crew have flown out to different destinations to join ships.

Many more flights are now booked as New Delhi has finally eased rules for chartered flights.

Doha and Colombo have been designated the hub airports through which Indian seafarers will be sent to join ships or repatriated after signing off from ships.

Colombo has agreed to allow Indian seafarers to stay for five days if they are travelling to Colombo to join a ship, and seven days if they are travelling out of Colombo on a chartered flight, provided flights are confirmed.

Qatar, meanwhile, has permitted seafarers a 22-hour stay at the airport while waiting for onward connections.

Also completed over the weekend was a pilot project flight taking crew from Manila to Rotterdam. The project was backed by Wilhelmsen, V. Ships, Synergy, Magsaysay, Global Marine Travel, the PTC Group and Inchcape. The safe transit corridor was described on social media by Synergy founder Rajesh Unni as the “new normal” for crew changes.

“We must adopt consistent methodology for safe changeovers,” Unni wrote on Twitter on Saturday. The end-to-end transit process delivering crew from the world’s top seafaring hub included medicals, coronavirus tests, biosecure lodging and land and air transit.

The UN secretary-general was urged on May 22 by shipping and trade unions leaders to persuade his 193 member states to act urgently to avoid a “humanitarian crisis”, with over 200,000 seafarers currently stuck working on vessels across the globe and unable to be relieved of their duties.

In a joint letter to António Guterres, the leaders of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), urged the secretary-general to ensure governments were adopting the 12-step set of protocols issued by the UN’s own maritime regulator, the International Maritime Organization.

The letter states: “There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue.

“Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”

The letter highlights the responsibility of governments to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“Time is running out. We ask action be taken immediately, ahead of 16 June 2020 – the final agreed deadline to implement crew changes for our seafarers,” the letter states.

In related news, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore has confirmed news first covered by Splash, setting out a way for crew changes to take place in the busy shipping hub for seafarers who have worked beyond their contracts.

Two weeks ago employers and seafarer trade unions agreed one final month’s extension before crews working beyond their stipulated contracts must be repatriated. The deal means governments have until June 16 to resolve the crew change issue.

In a joint statement from the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) last month, the two bodies warned failure to abide by the mid-June deadline could “negatively impact on the commercial viability” of ship operations.

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.


  1. Crew change in Singapore is very difficult to perform. For crew ho finish his contract need from flag state one document to attest no moore extension is granted from there side but for example Italian authorities don’t have in the legislation and don’t give. What we can do in this case? Crewing agency sent to MPA Singapore the contract of imploiment but still no reply MPA if is ok or not if approve the sign off. I hope after 15th of June Singapore rely open for crew change.

  2. …OSM chartered a dedicated OSM flight for 148 seafarers. The flight departed from Bergen in Norway and landed safely in Manila! Overcoming difficulties and finding solutions is at the heart of our people at OSM Maritime Group…

    1. Any travel agency can rent a plane! Especially when there are many vacant. Is that all you know to do?

  3. To Mr Sam Chambers
    As readers of the daily Splash 24/7 newsletter, we have been very concerned to read of the plight of seafarers around the world being required to stay on ships way over their contractual agreements due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
    We know Splash 24/7 does not cover the cruise ship industry, however, we would like to inform you that our son is a crew member on a cruise ship that had been required to stand off ports in the Gulf of Mexico for almost two months, only allowed in port for re-supply. Finally to cut a long story short, the companies have managed to transfer crews to various ships in the fleet so they may proceed to repatriate their crews to their country of origin.
    As we send this email, our son is literally waiting at Heathrow Airport after an Atlantic crossing on his ship to come home to Australia on a scheduled flight. So multiply his situation 10,000 times and you’ll see what a massive task it is to get cruise ships home.
    Has any thought been given to having cruise ship information on Splash 24/7 or is it strictly limited to cargo/tanker shippping.

  4. Nice to see how crew managers try to stop the accumulated rage of 200,000 sailors. But it doesn’t seem very effective.

  5. This is a very important topic! OSM Maritime Group also managed to arrange a chartered flight for 150 seafarers departing from Bergen and arriving to Manila safely the following day. The seafarers are healthy and happy to be reunited with their families and loved ones. It’s all about people at OSM!

  6. Thank you ITF and IMEC, Im a seafarer and it is really not funny nor a joke when you are not relieved of your duty for a long time,like a screw keep getting into your head, a torture..

  7. Hello to all concern, our ship destination now is brazil, i ask anyone about possible crew change in brazil? I’m one of the 200,000 seafarer want to go home.
    Congrats to OSM for the “Great Deeds” you made for my fellow Filipino seafarer. I wish and pray more blessing will come to your Great Company… Mabuhay po kayo…

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