Greater ChinaOperations

Hong Kong makes crew change allowances

Developments are happening fast in relation to crew repatriation during the coronavirus outbreak.

The UK has designated seafarers as key workers, Singapore is allowing crew changes with a number of caveats, while measures have been put in place today to allow crew to land and board ship in Hong Kong. In India, the shipping minister is preparing procedures to ensure Indian crew can leave and join ships when calling at local ports.

The clamour for other countries to follow suit and make crew changes easier is growing.

In an open letter, Graham Westgarth, CEO of shipmanagement giant V.Group, wrote yesterday: “[I]t’s time for governments around the world to designate seafarers as ‘key workers’. Failure to recognise them as such will have catastrophic global consequences.”

Westgarth noted: “Ships must be restocked, re-fuelled, inspected and given fresh crews to keep the world’s supply chain moving.” He urged governments to provide crew with adequate safeguards, including rights of embarkation and disembarkation.

The European Commission has issued guidelines calling for member states to implement green lanes to allow the free flow of goods and associated personnel across borders. Westgarth is calling on jurisdictions elsewhere in the world to adopt similar measures.

Kitack Lim, secretary general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), on Friday urged governments around the world to make crew changes easier in order to facilitate world trade.

Meanwhile, the International Ship Suppliers & Services Association (ISSA) has said its members also ought to be given essential worker status to keep ships moving around the world.

Responding to complaints from ship supply companies that they are being prevented from delivering to ships in some ports, ISSA has written to the heads of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) asking for ship suppliers around the world to be given essential worker status.

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. Virtually all ship managers are asking for crew to be given “key status”. Several of us have written about this. Synergy, V Ships, AESM, Wallem, Wilhelmsen and other leadership have called for some smart action to enable crew changes and a pragmatic approach to this situation.

    For all the use they are, the IMO and ICS have also issued statements. Some ship owners themselves are stopping crew changes. Maersk amongst others have all announced they are not doing crew changes for a month. The fear of infection of the current crew is the reason given. There are simple tests available for that.

    Hong Kong allows crew changes, without quarantine, unless you are from China, Taiwan and Macau. Singapore sort of allows crew changes. UK, Japan, USA and Australia seem to allow crew changes. I am sure many others do as well. However, we have a problem, there are very few flights. Of course, that could be organized if necessary. The issue is countries are closed to flights in and out. Can you hear me calling India?

    Then you have the Flag, Class, Right Ship, oil majors, charterers all ready to pounce if the ship is out of Class, in breach of ISM, or the crew have breached the maximum time on board. No clarity on this point has yet been received. What happens when one of these bodies gets a ship stopped because of the crew being on for too long? (This has already been threatened)

    Finally, we get to the crew, at the mercy of the owners who don’t want to relieve them, the ports who don’t want to see them, the airlines who don’t want to fly them and the countries who don’t care as long as they don’t come home.

    We forget, the crew have a contract, they don’t have to extend, they don’t have remain on. They do get to stop work and they do get to say no more.

    We should remember they are already in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, they have a high death rate and they have an uncomfortable suicide rate. All of which is likely to worsen should we not address this situation, as soon as possible.

    Bring me solutions not problems I tell my team, well the solution is quite simple. Countries need to wake up to the value of the seafarers and the maritime industry. Stop treating the seafarers like the dirt on your shoes, as long as you get your supplies and eat. Wake up to the impact of an industry that could grind to a halt if you don’t take action. Amazon could be only the start of workers taking action through being disgruntled. Only here the impact will be catastrophic worldwide. So, Trump, Xi, Modi or Boris we need global leadership and compassion, make it happen, this is a world crisis.

  2. Me, as a seaferer also hoping this to aprove “exemption on travel ban” for the seaferer. My contract was already extended onboard/canceled sign-off due to closing borders and few flights. We felt like a prison onboard losing hopes when to back home, stress and getting tired body and mind due to long term doing our job onboard. Even we are facing a world pandemic problem but we seaferer still doing our job continue sailing delevering every countries needs risk our lives to face this Covid-19 pandemic. We are also the Frontliners on the sea that wanting to given priorities to embark/disembark “crew change” and can be in our home to refresh our body and mind.

Back to top button