Greater ChinaOperations

Frank Coles calls for modern day Berlin Airlift to resolve the crew change crisis

Wallem boss Frank Coles has called for a modern day ‘Berlin Airlift’ to fix the crew change crisis.

The head of the Hong Kong shipmanager has written on social media of his exasperation at governments failing to act to resolve the issue of crew repatriation.

Coles explained that a solution was needed rapidly.

“This is not about getting the 400,000 home, because it will be 500,000 in a couple of months. It will be about the execution of an operation to rotate the 1.8m sailors in a logistics operation that allows the global shipping industry to continue to operate,” Coles wrote, warning: “If the planes don’t start flying soon, and the governments don’t wake up real fast this is going to be a roadblock that will take a long time to unwind.”

The Wallem head said shipping was fast approaching a place where there will not be enough seafarers ashore to replace those at sea.

“Many will not want to return, some will not have the requisite refresher training and, others will have just got home from their extended contracts, they won’t be mentally ready to return,” Coles predicted.

While shipping has been relying on chartering in planes in recent weeks, this has not been sufficient and is no long term fix as highlighted this week by comments from Steve Cotton, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Rajesh Unni, the founder of Singapore shipmanger, Synergy Group.

Warning that global supply chains are now at risk, Coles hit out at “inadequate” politicians and urged for a Berlin Airlift-type operation.

“We need military effectiveness, not government incompetence,” Coles wrote.

The Berlin Airlift started at the beginning of the Cold War, lasting for more than a year, with American and British aircraft carrying more than 2.3m tons of cargo into West Berlin, a city that had been cut off from the West by the USSR.

The UK’s former maritime minister, Nusrat Ghani, raised the issue of crew changes in parliament yesterday, urging her government to thrash out an international agreement to solve the issue. In replying to Ghani’s request, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, made little commitment to take up the matter.

The UK-headquartered International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) has launched a video campaign to get seafarers’ voices heard by governments. IMEC is asking for crew to send clips about their life onboard via to in order to help build the campaign and get politicians to hear about their plight.

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. Throw chocolates and sweets from the air onto ships ?? It could work, if the sailors were eight-year-olds. But here we speak of adult men.

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