Shipowners, seafarers’ unions and maritime employer groups are establishing their own approved international network of quarantine facilities to ensure seafarers can safely join ships, despite unpredictable changes to government border policies.
The move comes as the omicron variant spurs governments to close their borders to seafarers needing to leave and join ships.
The Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Programme (#CrewEQUIP) is a partnership between the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Collectively, the organisations represent more than 80% of the global merchant fleet and nearly 1m international seafarers through almost 200 affiliated unions.
“Too many seafarers will miss Christmas”
CrewEQUIP will create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed. The programme is designed to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having the highest standards and industry-best protocols in place, ensuring the scheme will continue to safely get crew to vessels even if governments increase their quarantine requirements.
The groups said the programme is urgently needed to avoid the shipping industry returning to the worst extremes of the crew change crisis, which saw 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard vessels beyond their initial contracts in late 2020, with an equivalent number unable to join vessels and earn income.
While a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition is still urgently needed, the groups said #CrewEQUIP would be important to have in place in the meantime to support greater levels of crew change.
The groups welcomed the announcement this week of a new joint World Health Organisation-International Labour Organisation industry action group to advance digital ‘yellow cards’ for seafarers and other workers who need to cross borders for their jobs. Yellow cards are a medical passport issued by the WHO, which could be used by transport workers as proof of vaccination.
Under the #CrewEQUIP scheme, shipping companies and their representatives such as crewing agents and vessel managers are able to sponsor pre-embarkation quarantine facilities for seafarers to be considered for recognition.
Facilities must meet #CrewEQUIP’s stringent standards for hygiene, testing integrity and data security.
A facility must also pass inspections by Lloyd’s Register, the programme’s recognised external auditor, to become and remain recognised #CrewEQUIP providers.
From today, shipowners, shipping companies and their representatives will be able to access the online booking portal to nominate pre-embarkation quarantine facilities at crewequip.org.
IMEC chairman Captain Belal Ahmed, said: “This new quarantine facility programme will give industry more confidence to support the movement of more seafarers more regularly around the world safe in the knowledge that there is a considerably less risk of Covid-19 being introduced to a vessel if a seafarer has joined via a CrewEquip-approved facility, where the highest standards will prevail.”
Chair of the ITF Seafarers’ section, David Heindel, welcomed the #CrewEQUIP partnership by saying, “A successful crew change needs everything to line up across the port states, transit countries, and the right facilities available in place in the home country of seafarers involved. Currently, even seemingly minor alterations to a government’s border, health or quarantine policies can bring a planned crew change to a halt – often leaving a seafarer with no option but to continue working onboard beyond their initial contracts. Too many seafarers will miss Christmas and other important events in the coming weeks.”
Guy Platten, secretary general of ICS, called on world leaders to urgently provide a long-term solution to ensure that seafarers are no longer unduly impacted by ever-changing travel and quarantine restrictions.
“The reinstatement of harsh travel rules by governments as a knee-jerk response to the omicron variant is of great concern. Coordinated action must be taken by world leaders to exempt transport workers from travel restrictions and prioritise them for vaccinations and boosters. We do not want to see a return to the peak of the crew change crisis,” Platten said.
Author: Sam Chambers