Greater ChinaOperations

Hong Kong allows unrestricted crew changes

Hong Kong has made the biggest concessions in the crew change saga, making it possible for all seafarers calling the southern Chinese port to either get home or board their vessel with no quarantine measures or special permits.

The local Marine Department has updated rules permitting unrestricted crew changes.

The new rules, issued last night, stipulate outgoing crewmembers who have completed their service onboard would be required to stay onboard the vessel during their stay in Hong Kong and travel directly to the airport for repatriation to their home countries so as to minimise contact with the local community. Hong Kong’s airport is situated on an island far away from the main population centres and has connections to more cities than most airports in the world.

Incoming crewmembers should only arrive in Hong Kong when their vessels are berthed in Hong Kong and should get onboard immediately upon arrival. If there is a genuine need for them to stay in Hong Kong whilst awaiting to board, the shipping companies or agents should arrange them in an accommodation for self isolation until getting onboard. Point-to-point transfers should be arranged by the shipping companies  or agents for crewmembers to and from the vessel.

Shipping unions have given the industry one more week to resolve the crew change issue, which has seen more than 200,000 seafarers work beyond their contract lengths, thanks to strict travel restrictions put in place across the globe because of Covid-19. The length of time at sea – with many men and women now working on ship for more than a year – has led to many cases of severe mental breakdowns with some ship masters even deciding to take matters into their own hands and diverting from their intended destinations to try and get home.

“Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable. This jeopardizes their health and endangers maritime safety. Action is needed now to ensure decent work for seafarers, avoid maritime accidents and environmental disasters. We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety,” the director-general of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, said yesterday.

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. The Hong Kong Shipowners Association, under the leadership of Chairman Bjorn Hojgaard and Ms Sandy Chan have been pivotal in getting this result. They ensured the matter received the attention of the highest office in town.

  2. Does this also apply to HK flagged vessels at anchor, or only for vessels calling inside HK port?

  3. The World Health Organization never recommended restrictions on crew changes. Inexplicably, the HK authorities were behaving fearfully during these last months.
    In HK are very incompetent as port managers.

    1. In many ports, uninfected or asymptomatic passengers and crew members are being directly repatriated. Should HK be different?

  4. I am surprised at some of these comments. I do not think for one minute Hong Kong are incompetent port managers, whatever that means. Compared to what?

    First ships carrying cargo have always been allowed to do crew changes without quarantine and without the laborious permit controls imposed elsewhere.

    The change today has added any cargo ship that comes to Hong Kong, whether for cargo or just to do a crew change can now avail themselves of this process. This is way ahead of most ports in the region and indeed in a lot of the world. You don’t need a visa, just a seaman’s card.

    Hong Kong have acted with absolute prudence and the results are seen in the 4 deaths and and 1100 cases of COVID. If that is fearful, then I will have it everyday, especially with our restaurants and bars and shops all open.

    Nothing is perfect and we would still like to be able to have cruise ship technical calls to bunker and store the ships. Even better we would like to have crew changes for passenger ships. This will come but prudence with common sense has prevailed, there are many countries where this has not been the case.

    Credit where credit is due, well done to Hong Kong authorities, unsung heroes in the COVID story. The message is clear bring your ships to Hong Kong to do crew changes.

    1. You have to be joking! You have available banks, mass media, money, hospitals, hotels and airports; all that most of ports in that area do not have; you are doing something that is hardly commendable.

      1. Perhaps you should suggest which port in the world is easier in doing crew changes such that more seafarers with expired contract could be relieved.

        The figures (number of crew being repatriated at various ports) will speak for themselves at the end.

        1. Fear closed the port of HK. That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Sailors could die on board, while HK has best hospitals in Asia empty!!.

    1. That move only shows how far HK turned away when you were needed of their help.

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