How technology can get our seafarers home safely

Gerry Buchanan from the Liberian Registry provides readers with suggestions and updates on how to resolve the crew change crisis.

With hindsight of course there is plenty that could have been done months – or even years – ago to have ensured the crew change crisis never happened in the first place.

The designation of seafarers as key workers could have been fixed a long time ago. Similarly, the application of technology is necessary to smooth the health concerns authorities have about this vital slice of the global workforce.

We have the tools to help

Still, we do not have time to look backwards – we need to act now. Even when a coronavirus vaccine is introduced – unlikely for 12 months – can we continue the way we have been with more than 400,000 increasingly stressed seafarers stranded at sea?

We have the tools to help. Take the brand new CERTUS myHealth Pass as a good starting point.

Swiss-based security company SICPA, in partnership with Hong Kong’s Crew Assist, has developed a digital medical document, designed to alleviate concern from governments over the validity of many crew’s Covid-19 health checks. The digital document has been under trial and has gained significant support from across the shipping industry, including the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) of employers, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as well as us at the Liberian Registry.

What’s also happening in conjunction with these trials is a new campaign led by the ITF, informally entitled the Manila Project, which aims at showing Singapore’s Maritime & Port Authority how a Covid safe corridor can be created between Manila and Singapore, one of the world’s busiest hub ports.

The problem at the Philippines end has been in getting seafarers from their home to an airport and then into a 14-day quarantine with the required security. Singapore has not had full confidence in this process so the ITF has decided to take ownership of this, taking crew from their provinces, sequestering them in a hotel for the 14-day period and conducting the approved PCR test 72 hours before a flight and using KSI blockchain technology to be transparent about how the whole system can work.

Likewise when a seafarer is sent home, a rapid Covid-19 test kit ought to be ready before any flight.

Once this hugely important safe corridor – backed up by tamper-proof tech – is up and running between these two important shipping hubs, the plan will then be to create something similar involving India and other crewing nations. We don’t want to run before we walk, however, so we need proof of concept with this first Philippines – Singapore corridor before we take this idea elsewhere. Crew Assist believes due to the exceptional circumstances the solution should be urgently adopted by an amendment to the ILO under the MLC Convention. Otherwise if each country goes their own way the result will be chaos.

The industry will need to be ready to pay for this, whether it is owners or charterers, but they will have to – this is shipping’s new normal.

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