Crew change crisis goes from bad to worse

The crew change crisis is worsening once again with thousands more workers at sea working beyond their contracted times.

At its peak in the middle of last year there were more than 400,000 crew who were working beyond their contract times, a figure that had gradually been cut in half, but has over the past two months started to rise rapidly based on data from the world’s top 10 shipmanagers.

The Maritime Labour Convention states that the maximum continuous period a seafarer should serve on board a vessel without leave is 11 months. Many thousands of crew have now been at sea for more than a year.

“The situation is going from bad to worse. We need more than lip service from governments, we need concrete action that allows crew changes to be carried out in a safe manner,” commented Stephen Cotton, general secretary, International Transport Workers’ Federation.

The situation is going from bad to worse. We need more than lip service from governments

Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, said resolving the crew change crisis requires all seafarers to have priority access to vaccines.

While there has been some progress on this front, for instance in the United States and in parts of Europe, the vast majority of seafarers are still unable to be vaccinated.

Shipmanagers who have contributed data to the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator, which gives an indication of the worsening situation at sea, reported today on reasons for the spiralling numbers of crew struggling to get home on time.

Continual high infection rates and subsequent domestic lockdowns are still challenging crew changes and causing disruption to crew movements.

We now see shipping companies offering salaries 10-20% higher than the average market levels or providing a high joining bonus

A decrease of daily inbound flights to the Philippines as well as the travel ban announced by Philippine government for seafarers traveling from the UAE, Oman, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan are causing a general disruption to the crew movements.

Travel restrictions continue to prevent seafarers from going back home and many flights have been cancelled.

Leading maritime crew nations continue to have low vaccination rates and seafarers continue to have limited vaccine access.

Costs are rising in the crewing sector and crew shortages are beginning to be seen as Covid-19 travel restrictions and vaccination delays impact the availability of trained seafarers, Danica Crewing Services warned this week.

“Not unexpectedly – and as in freight markets – when there is a shortage the cost goes up and we now see shipping companies offering salaries 10-20% higher than the average market levels or providing a high joining bonus,” commented Henrik Jensen, Danica’s managing director.

More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition created by shipping veteran Frank Coles to establish an enforceable global protocol for so called green channel travel for seafarers.

“Normally at sea for around eight months at a time many [seafarers] have been forced to spend 16 or more months at sea during Covid. Countries have closed their borders, flights stopped and extremely taxing rules put in place for any travel. This has placed an extraordinary strain on mental welfare of the mariners. It has also put the safety of ships at risk,” reads the petition launched a few days ago via the site change.org.

To look at the online petition, click here.

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. 5 days after the Day of the Seafarers…. You go world

    Sign and Share the petition please

  2. Please let me be clear. This isn’t all on governments. Every day of the week including holidays we are assisting seafarers. It isn’t just the seafarers who are suffering. Its the thousands of us who care for and support seafarers. While it is easy to blame governments, which ones are we talking about? Belgium, UK, Japan or my Canada. Or should we be looking at Marshall Islands, Panama or Liberia for example. Isn’t it those that clammer to get up the tables of flag performance that should be doing something? Instead they are covering for shipowners who are only using the pandemic to abuse crew.

    It’s a holiday in Canada today, but I am fighting with MSC who wish to send an injured man home to covid torn Indonesia without a care plan. The man rightfully feels he will be abandoned. With the way MSC is behaving I tend to agree. Or the African Seto, Panama, that dragged up river water to fill the FW tank. The manager of that company seems to delight in cruelty. What does that have to do with the pandemic or vaccines. What about AM Nomikos operated Rego, Marshall Islands. The office prepared statements for the crew to print and sign that they would extend their contact to 13 months. What does that have to do with the pandemic? Canada is a crew change hub.

    I am growing so weary of industry finger pointing to governments when what really needs to happen is the industry needs to get the inhumane managers out of it. You want more examples, we have them. Happy Canada Day everyone.

    1. You hit the target right on the spot. I am a seafarer and my govt is doing its best to support the industry & manpower. It is the companies that make it hard.

  3. In reality crew appears to be getting relieved as per their requirement. Of course managers and owners would like to exploit the situation by throwing in a bit of bonus here and there.

  4. Only a small number of crew are able to travel out of the Indian subcontinent. As Owners and Managers we are also of the view that at this time, as far as possible, only fully vaccinated crew should join a ship. The combined effect on our crew change plans is that some seafarers on board may have to stay longer than their normal schedule. Many of them had to stay at home for a longer period last year and are therefore willing to extend their contracts. Governments could assist ship Owners by facilitating vaccines and easing travel restrictions.

  5. No one is talking about the expensive flights that are available which owners refuse to pay or the cost of crew changes which the owners have saved in the past 18 months.

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