Japanese owners look at using offshore airport as crew change hub

A group of Japanese shipowners has formulated a plan to use a giant offshore airport as a hub for crew changes during the coronavirus pandemic and are keen to show the proposal to the government.

The plan would use Kansai International Airport, an international airport located on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, as a shipping station for crew change.

Crew members arriving from overseas would process through health check and immigration procedures before boarding a small passenger boat to take them to their ship. Likewise, for crews leaving ship to head home from Japan, the plan would be to moor in and around Osaka, Japan’s second city, and take the passenger boat to the airport for onwards processing and repatriation without entering the Japanese mainland.

Japan, home to the world’s third largest merchant fleet, has been hit hard by the coronavirus in terms of crewing issues. The country is reliant on Filipinos for around 75% of its crewing needs and the Philippines has been put on a list of nationalities unable to visit the country during the pandemic, a problem exacerbated by the stringent lockdown witnessed in the Philippines where all flights have been suspended since last weekend.

To assist governments to put in place coordinated procedures to facilitate the safe movement of seafarers, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Wednesday issued a 12-step plan to 174 member states including Japan and the Philippines, providing them with a roadmap to free seafarers from their Covid-19 lockdown and allow appropriate exemptions for them to join or leave ships.

The 55-page roadmap has been advanced by a broad coalition of seafarer unions, and international shipping industry associations, with input from airline industry representatives, international organisations, and the insurance sector, to provide a comprehensive blueprint of how governments can facilitate crew changeovers and resolve safety concerns throughout the entire process.

In less than two weeks’, time, approximately 150,000 merchant seafarers – including 40,000 Filipinos – will need to be changed over to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, with tens of thousands currently trapped onboard ships across the globe due to the continuing imposition of travel restrictions.

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.
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