End of the tunnel in sight for the crew change crisis as Denmark lifts virus restrictions

News this week that Denmark will end virus restrictions from the beginning of February and reclassify Covid-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society has given the shipping industry a glimpse of a possible end to the pandemic restraints which have caused severe hardships to hundreds of thousands at sea over the past two years.

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen (pictured) made the announcement while Covid cases remain very high in the country, but her point of view – that Covid is endemic, not a pandemic – is one gaining acceptance across much of Europe.

Frederiksen said the country’s high vaccination rate provided protection against the far less lethal omicron variant.

The case load is spiking in many countries but with little to no impact on hospitalisations and deaths

“We are saying farewell to the restrictions and welcome to life as we knew it before coronavirus,” Frederiksen told a press conference earlier this week.

Several other European countries, including France, Ireland and the United Kingdom, have announced the lifting or a considerable reduction of their restrictions, despite record or very high cases.

Looking at the news from Hong Kong, one of the cities with the strictest anti-Covid measures in the world, Bjorn Hojgaard, the Danish CEO of shipmanagement giant Anglo-Eastern Univan Group, told Splash that he was hopeful the tide was turning for seafarers and their freedom of movement.

“It seems increasingly clear that with relatively high vaccine coverage and as omicron is crowding out other variants, the case load is spiking in many countries but with little to no impact on hospitalisations and deaths. That would indeed mean that Covid is becoming endemic rather than pandemic, and it seems reasonable to believe that it will lead to widespread abolishment of travel and social restrictions etc,” Hojgaard told Splash today.

Hojgaard suggested that this would be the trend over the next few weeks and months.

“That’s indeed good news for the crew change crisis to finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” Hojgaard said, warning that there may be pockets of countries, especially in Asia, where it will take longer to adopt to this new reality.

“I am hopeful that we are turning a corner and that the second half of this year will be much different than the last two years have been for the people at the coalface of our industry: the seafarers. They surely deserve a break,” Hojgaard said.

Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), told Splash that he hoped more governments follow the Danish lead and treat omnicron and related stains as becoming endemic.

“Too many governments have not lived up to their commitments under the Maritime Labour  Convention and that has caused tremendous practical challenges for seafarers, shipowners and managers,” Poulsson said.

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. Hope is what keeps us going. However, the proof will be in the eating as they say. How countries treat tourists and crew has always been different. How countries make rules internally and at the ports has been different, and I fear the same will continue.

    In Florida COVID has for sometime been treated as a strong flu. Severe in some cases, mostly mild for the vaccinated. Life has been normal. Yet cruise crews cannot come ashore, not because Florida is preventing it, but the cruise ship companies are stopping it. Now I know Splash avoids cruise, but the sailors on board those ships are crew also!

    China, LOL, don’t hold your breath for crew rights, crew change and any semblance of normalcy there. This represents a large part of the trade, the problem and denial of rights for humans, never mind crew.

    Relaxing the rules on COVID as a pandemic and making it more palatable to live will help in many areas, but many issues still remain. Medical treatment ashore, vaccination recognition, general shore leave as a means of control, all will continue to be issues. Whilst they may be able to go home, the likelihood is that during their tour of duty crew will be kept at arms length in ports.

    Will those who have chosen to leave the sea return? Possibly some out of necessity, others will see that this relaxing of the rules will see seafarers rights pushed below the radar of reporting and that is fact things will remain worse than before the epidemic, but now without advocacy for change.

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