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.
The Chief Secretary has exercised his powers to approve the exemption of crew members of goods vessels, including those without cargo operations, from compulsory quarantine under Cap. 599E to undergo crew changes in Hong Kong.
— HKSOA (@hksoa_org) June 9, 2020