A hefty chunk of the world’s mariners soon will be able to safely join ships despite unpredictable changes to government border policies internationally.
That’s according to a joint press release dated Dec. 16 from three international maritime organizations. The release states that shipowners, mariner unions and maritime employer groups are in the process of establishing their own approved international network of quarantine facilities. The move comes as the omicron variant spurs some governments to close their borders to seafarers needing to leave and join ships.
Dubbed the Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Program (CrewEQUIP), the effort came into fruition via a partnership between the International Maritime Employers’ Council; the International Chamber of Shipping; and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Collectively, these organizations represent more than 80 percent of the global merchant fleet and nearly one million international seafarers through almost 200 affiliated unions.
CrewEQUIP will create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed. The program is designed to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having the highest standards and industry-best protocols in place. Such an arrangement should help ensure that crew members will continue to safely get to vessels even if governments increase their quarantine requirements.
Spokespersons from the groups said the program is urgently needed to avoid the shipping industry’s return 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 equal number unable to join vessels and earn income.
While a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition is still urgently needed, the various officials said CrewEQUIP would be important to have in place in the interim to support greater levels of crew change. The groups also welcomed the December announcement of a new joint WHO-ILO-industry action group to advance digital “yellow cards” for mariners and other workers who need to cross borders for their jobs.
Under the CrewEQUIP plan, 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 program’s recognized external auditor, to become and remain accepted CrewEQUIP providers.
SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, who also serves as Chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section, welcomed the CrewEQUIP partnership, noting: “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….
“Thorough programs like CrewEQUIP, unions and industry are providing a robust system that reduces at least one of the factors that risk successful crew changes,” Heindel continued. “It’s an important initiative and we encourage all responsible shipowners and employers to get behind.”