Crew change still isn’t working

James Wilkes from Gray Page urges the IMO to set up multiple virtual flying squads of advisors and experts to help port states implement crew change protocols.

“Labour isn’t working” was the slogan of a political advertisement devised by adverting agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the UK Conservative Party in 1978. 

It showed a snaking line of hundreds of people queuing outside an ‘unemployment office’. 

Unemployment was then at a post-war high and the ad was run in anticipation that the Labour prime minister at the time, James Callaghan, would call a general election. He did a year later, after losing a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the wake of the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

The slogan was modified for the Conservative’s general election campaign to say, “Labour still isn’t working”.

The Conservatives won that election and in 1979 Margret Thatcher became the UK’s first female prime minister. 

Giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions

The advertising campaign was credited with winning the election for the Conservatives and in 1999 the poster voted the “Best Poster of the Century”, such was its perceived impact.

The irony of the campaign was that an unemployment rate of 5 to 6% wasn’t that high. It has remained at that level or above in the UK since then. 

But it does show what a single powerful message can achieve when it gets traction in the public’s mind.

A single powerful message that gets public attention was the objective behind the #blowyourhorn Twitter campaign that I started in anger on June 23, to highlight the crew change crisis that had been building for months and wasn’t getting noticed, never mind resolved.

Despite the campaign, which was subsequently adopted and adapted by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), as well as some shipping companies and maritime organisations.

Despite the International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes convened by the UK government on July 9, the situation isn’t getting better. 

Crew change still isn’t working.

If the figures released by the ICS are correct, over half a million seafarers are now impacted by the crew change crisis. 

250,000 seafarers remain trapped on ships, with little or no prospect of paying-off and going home to their families and loved ones. 

250,000 seafarers can’t travel to ships to take up their contracts, sign-on and start working. 

It is not just that crew change still isn’t working, it’s getting worse.

Now is the time for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other shipping industry bodies have to make a decision. 

Continue lobbying and campaigning in the same vein and, on the current evidence, in vain.

Or adapt and do something. 

One idea I’ve had – and floated on Twitter, which is how I’ve ended up writing this – is for the IMO to set up multiple virtual ‘flying squads’ of advisors and experts who will help individual port states get aligned with, and implement, the Recommended Framework of Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel.

You see, giving people frameworks or instructions on how to operate something will only work if they can and will follow the instructions. 

Whenever I purchase anything that comes with operating instructions, if I read the instructions at all I will only get as far as the “quick start menu”. I’m convinced – as most men are – that if I need to know anything after that, I’ll be able to work it out by trial and error. 

However, the crew change crisis is too profound a problem to be trying to solve it by trial and error. If the Recommended Framework is a “quick start menu”, it isn’t starting anything, let alone quickly.

So my suggestion to the IMO is to pick the top 5 or 10 port states by usual volume of crew change, provide a flying squad for each of those port state who will help systematise the process, de-bureaucratise it, identify the barriers to making it happen and remove them.

Then measure success by the actual volume of crew changes taking place, rather than what port states are claiming is possible.

I’m not suggesting it will be easy, but if there is no concerted intervention by the IMO, no different solution to what’s happening now, the crisis will only deepen. 

Failing that, another idea is to engage a global advertising agency and have them produce a billboard poster with the slogan “Crew Change Isn’t Working”.

Then buy up all the billboard space around the government offices in each major port state, and run it – until crew change is working.

At the same time, every ship in every port should sound its whistle at noon local time, every day – until crew change is working. 

For the sake of all seafarers, it’s time to be controversial. 

To demand attention.

To get noticed.

To be effective.

Like all the greatest advertising campaigns have been.  


  1. IMO has never helped seamen, so what makes you think they can or will do anything different now?? Attending a bunch of conferences and meetings and then writing a bunch more rules and regulations won’t get anything actually accomplished, except of course to maintain their own useless and ineffective jobs..

    1. Fully agree,this is disabled as for IMo intentions,will make more hard way to get on procedure of changeover.

  2. While non of the Governments are interested for the crew change, the only option is to stop all the ships wherever they are.. then the whole world will realise how important the seafarers are. As long as the ships are sailing there is no solution for this crisis…

  3. F*ck IMO. You just seating and sucking money, why dont you suck your useless ass?. You made an everyday non sense rules, but rules for crew change is hard for you. Why dont you step down and f*ck the ass of your wife, sister or mother, assh*les!

  4. Great suggestion James. I fear we may be trending backwards though. However we cannot give up.

  5. it is absolutely correct that the current crews on board vessels are at a critical breakdown point, they are stressed and feel incarcerated. But in the defence of the Ports allowing crew changes, the Crew Managers have not and will not follow isolation rules that help screen the crews for Covid 19, coupling that with tampered test results that show negative to Covid 19, the crews actually travelled as an infectious person and arrived at the crew change port. Testing on arrival showed positive results. Covid 19 if contracted within a couple hours do not show up on PCR tests, the fact that it did shows that the crews were indeed positive when they were tested at their home country. No government wants imported cases of Covid 19 or for the matter of fact any communicable disease into their countries. The solution is not for IMO to convince, its for IMO to penalise those errant Crew Managers, they have caused a tightening of already relaxing crew change rules. I know this for a fact as I am in the thick of it all, so I would appreciate Mr Wilkes to please investigate into the matter more before happily criticising the Ports for not allowing crew changes.

  6. First of all I agree 100%. Iam not a sailor. Iam a security guard and so long on this job o ful agree. No one cares in reality if crew change or not.
    But also I want comment about security guards. Who is responsible for us? Who international organization is? They know to be onboard but no one cares if we must go home or not. Many of us are on board more from 9 months! If someone goes and check the conditions how security guards stay on float Armoured vessels on Red Sea, OPL Fujairaj, OPL Comores, on 61 East NE of Soquotra Island.
    No one cares. All companies, no matter what, they care only for theirs pockets.

  7. Perhaps owners and operators should only allow vessels to call ports in countries that allow crew to sign on & off in future. That will strangle those countries, not having critical goods coming in or going out. They will soon change their tune!

  8. It is called “international cooperation” and is made available to developing countries. But no country has requested it, among other things because it implies a transfer of sovereignty.

  9. Good day TO IMO this time of pandemic you can not brought a concrete action to help the stranded seaferer,
    You always have strict regulation but a simple change crew
    You can’t do to east the burden of hard working seaferer
    It’s means imo is not effective when it comes to this trials in life.
    Suggestions 1)why not issue a simple memo or order or what so ever, stated that all seaferer in the member of IMO Country must have a special line to travel or transit for crew change2)when it come to visa issued them a seafer visa that only IMO can give besides your very good about that,that eastated you guarantee the safe passage of seaferer only for transiting.
    Sometimes we don’t need the big thinker, just simple as the word CREW CHANGE. GOOD BLESS US ALL THANS

  10. There are no votes to be gained by allowing foreign seafarers to transit through a nation’s ports and airports. But there are votes to be lost if infection rates increase.

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