A joint appeal has been issued to governments by the International Air Transport Association (Iata) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) for urgent steps to be taken to enable crew change flights for seafarers. As with commercial aviation aircrews, although on different timescales, international safety regulations require that merchant sailors be periodically rotated ashore, so that they can rest.
Worldwide, the number of merchant sailors who need to be rotated averages about 100 000 per month. Currently, because of national lockdowns and severe flight restrictions in many countries around the world, intended to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of these sailors are being forced to extend their time afloat. “Shipping is vital to the maintenance of global supply chains, but the current situation is unsustainable for the safety and wellbeing of ships’ crews and the safe operation of maritime trade,” highlight the two associations in their joint statement.
The ICS and Iata are urging governments to classify a small number of specific airports as merchant ship crew change airports. These should be close to major shipping routes and have direct air connections to the countries from which most of these sailors come, including China, India, the Philippines and Western and Eastern Europe. These airports would allow for the safe movement and transport of the sailors. And, in doing so, they would also enable the resumption of flights requiring aircrew changes, thereby allowing global supply chains to continue to function.
“Airlines have been required to cut passenger services in the fight to stop the spread of Covid-19,” points out Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac. “But if governments identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols, airlines can help keep global logistics moving.”
“Seafarers are unsung heroes who everyday throughout this Covid-19 crisis are going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that countries are kept supplied with the goods they need,” stresses ICS secretary-general Guy Platten. “We are working with the airlines to come forward with solutions. We need governments to support our seafarers and facilitate safe passage for them to get home to loved ones and be replaced by crew members ready to keep supply chains open.”
“Aviation and shipping companies face common challenges in carrying out crew changes while complying with immigration and quarantine restrictions introduced by most governments around the world,” notes the joint statement. National restrictions intended for passengers and nonessential personnel, introduced to counter Covid-19, often affected air and ship crews operating internationally. “When applied to crew not interacting with local communities, these restrictions unnecessarily jeopardise the ability of airlines and shipping companies to keep global supply chains operating.”
Ships carry about 90% of global trade by volume, including energy, food, manufactured goods and raw materials, while aircraft carry about 35% of global trade by value, including essential medical supplies and medicines. “Shipping companies and airlines are cooperating to meet this [logistics] priority by ensuring that reliable operations continue throughout the pandemic,” affirms the joint statement. “However, these networks will grind to a halt if replacement crews are unavailable for duty. Governments must take urgent action now to avoid further damage to the battered global economy.”
Iata and ICS are working with their respective global regulatory agencies, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, to recommend to governments standardised crew positioning and repatriation protocols and procedures that would prevent the continuing spread of the disease.
Iata represents about 290 airlines, responsible for 82% of worldwide air traffic. The ICS represents merchant shipowners and operators, responsible for more than 80% of the global merchant fleet.