Amid a crew change crisis that has hit the global shipping industry, a large global ship management company has started pushing the Indian crew of some of the ships it manages to sign an extension. of contract.
The move comes at a time when seafarers, including those from India, are demanding approval of ships after terminating their original contract.
But, this exercise has been interrupted by lockdown restrictions imposed by nations to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the stopping of flights has derailed the movement of sailors to reach their homes after disembarkation, or for their replacements to travel. to join a ship on the next mission.
As a result, a large number of seafarers have to extend their service on board ships after many months at sea, unable to be replaced after long periods of service or to be repatriated by plane to their country of origin, an issue that has caught the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
“Maritime transport is vital for maintaining global supply chains, but the current situation is not sustainable for the safety and well-being of ship crews and the safe functioning of maritime commerce. Each month, approximately 150,000 seafarers must be transferred to and from the vessels they operate to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations aimed at ensuring the safety, health and well-being of the crew and the prevention of fatigue. “IMO said.
On Friday, the Indian chief officer of an oil tanker resigned his post while at sea, citing “mental and physical exhaustion” which had led him to “lose his concentration and judgment” in the exercise of “duties and responsibilities on board”.
A few days ago, another senior Indian officer employed on another ship resigned while at sea somewhere in South Korea, citing the same reasons.
On May 5, IMO distributed a framework of protocols to 174 member states, to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 13, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Employers Council gave governments until June 15 to repatriate crews working beyond the term of their contract, following the guidelines of IMO.
Extension of contracts
Hong Kong-based Anglo-Eastern, which operates more than 600 vessels, on Friday sent letters to some of its vessels asking the Indian crew to sign an extension of their contracts for up to three months, an official said. industry informed of development. . The extension is requested for people on board whose contract has ended or ends no later than June 15.
“Anglo-Eastern is doing this just to be on the safe side,” he said.
According to the IMO Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) which has been ratified by the Indian Parliament, a crew on board cannot work with expired contracts.
“If they (Anglo-Eastern) have an extension letter signed by the crew, they can say they have requested the extension and delay signing further. This is why Anglo-Eastern is pushing Indian sailors on its ships to sign contract extensions. They will say, it was the seafarers who gave their consent, ”he said.
It is not uncommon, however, for managers and ship owners to opt for the offshore crew contract extension to comply with Port State Control (PSC) inspections and audits performed by the oil majors before loading and unloading the cargo in the case of oil. oil tankers.
These inspections generally examine the validity of the vessel’s certificates as well as those of the crew, including their employment contract.
“But, the fact that the ship managers are opting for contract extensions in this extreme situation is also a very clear indication that they are not pro-sea,” he said. “They are just trying to exaggerate the extreme costs of changing crews in Indian ports just to distract attention,” he added.
The global crew change crisis is heading to a potentially messy end.
If governments around the world do not ease travel restrictions, to facilitate crew changes, or if crew members refuse to sign contract extensions, the number of people on board will be lower. at the minimum fixed by the manning safety rules, which renders the vessel unfit for navigation and unfit to navigate. This would disrupt oil, dry bulk and container supply chains.
SOP for crew change
While India has authorized crew changes of Indian seafarers in Indian ports from April 22, it has yet to define standard operating procedures (SOPs) for crew changes of Indian seafarers in Indian ports. foreign ports.
Following strong lobbying from the shipping industry, the Interior Ministry on Friday allowed Indian sailors stranded abroad to return to flights chartered by their employers.
The scheduling of these flights would be carried out in consultation with the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Civil Aviation and the states to which the flights are planned.
In addition, Indian sailors seeking to join ships in overseas ports were allowed to travel on non-scheduled commercial flights from India as part of the Vande Bharat mission, or on charter flights. organized by shipping companies subject to the authorization of the Ministry of Marine, according to the memorandum issued by the Ministry of the Interior.
The procedures for authorizing charter flights should be published shortly by the Directorate-General for Navigation. “I hope the first charter flight for the normal crew change will probably take off next week,” a government official said.
Source: The Hindu Business Line