The rise of COVID-19 infections in China is posing new challenges for crew changes as some countries reintroduce restrictions and test requirements for seafarers arriving from certain Asian nations, the Global Maritime Forum says.
While improvements in seafarer vaccination rates, an easing of travel restrictions, and decreasing infection rates in some regions have helped to improve the crew change crisis overall, the rise in infections in China is a “cause for concern,” the Global Maritime Forum said in its latest Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator (NDCCI) update.
The Global Maritime Forum’s Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator (NDCCI) builds on aggregated data from leading ship managers to provide insight into the the crew change situation. At its peak during the COVID-19 pandemic, the crew change crisis impacted some 400,000 seafarers who were working beyond their contracts’ expiration or the 11-month limit under the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention.
The NDCCI for the fourth quarter of 2022 shows that 2.7% of seafarers are still stuck onboard vessels beyond contract expiration, a 0.6 percentage point drop compared to the third quarter of 2022. The number of seafarers kept from disembarking is the lowest since the Global Maritime Forum introduced the Crew Change Indicator in May 2021. At the same time, the percentage of seafarers onboard vessels for more than 11 months fell to 0.2%, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points since the October indicator reading.
“The numbers trend in the right direction, but the figures still represent thousands of seafarers, who can’t get to work or journey home, as they were supposed to,” says Susanne Justesen, Ph.D., Project Director Human Sustainability at Global Maritime Forum. “The fundamental issues of seafarers not being treated as key workers also hasn’t changed, which will be a global problem if the pandemic resurges or when we face a similar problem in the future.”
Ship managers report that the recent ease in restrictions in China is both encouraging and concerning. While China repeals restrictions, other countries, including India and Japan, have implemented new test requirements and restrictions for seafarers arriving from specific Asian countries because of the rise in infections. Also, local and central governments in China are not yet aligned, and crew changes in China are thus very reliant on local agents to ensure compliance with regulations, according to the Global Maritime Forum.
The indicator suggests that seafarers are still getting vaccinated, as the number of seafarers vaccinated is up 2.7 percentage points since October, bringing the number of vaccinated seafarers to 95.6%. Data-providing ship managers report that concerns remain over the possibility of new variants developing and current vaccinations not being sufficiently effective. Some ship managers further note that they opt to replace non-vaccinated crew members with vaccinated crew members when possible, the Global Maritime Forum said.
Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator builds on the Neptune Declaration, which the Global Maritime Forum spearheaded and has now been signed by more than 850 companies and organizations in recognition of their shared responsibility to resolve the crew change crisis.