Hapag-Lloyd reports COVID-19 cases on two ships

German container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd reported that two of its vessels were facing delays amid COVID-19 infection cases among the crew.

The two ships include CSL Manhattan, a 2005-built Panamax containership commercially controlled by Hapag, and Tsingtao Express, a 2007-built Post-Panamax containership owned by Hapag-Lloyd.

“During redelivery from the previous charter there was one crew member who tested positive for COVID-19 onboard CSL Manhattan during her port stay in Shanghai. The crew member is meanwhile disembarked from the vessel,” Hapag-Lloyd said.

Chinese health authorities now stated that CSL Manhattan needs to go into 14 days of quarantine on anchorage outside port area.

The German liner had to delay the ship’s sailing to the end of November, adding the released containers would be shifted to One Millau containership.

“All remaining bookings, where containers have not yet been picked up, need to be cancelled due to above mentioned unforeseen operational circumstances,” the company added.

“We regret the inconvenience caused by this incident which remains beyond our control and we are working with the relevant authorities on a timely resolution.”

Separately several members of the crew tested positive for COVID-19 on board the firm’s boxship Tsingtao Express, deployed in Pacific North Loop 4 (PN4), upon arrival of the vessel at Pusan, Korea.

“Local authorities were duly notified and crew was immediately isolated and brought to a quarantine facility ashore. We are hoping for a speedy recovery,” Hapag-Lloyd pointed out.

At the moment the vessel is located off the coast of Pusan and the company said it was assessing any potential impact on the vessel, cargo operations and berthing dates for subsequent ports.

“We will provide more information as soon as it becomes available,” the liner major said, adding it was working with the relevant local health authorities and abiding by all governmental directives as to this situation.

Over the past few months, several of the company’s ships have been faced with coronavirus infections on board.

A crew member on board Mehuin tested positive for COVID-19 in September, causing the ship to go into a 14-day quarantine, just a month after two crew members on board the 8,600 TEU Sofia Express tested positive while the vessel was at anchor at the Port of Vancouver, Canada.

Crew change crisis still unresolved

COVID-19 outbreaks among seafarers are further exacerbating the strenuous working conditions for maritime crews who have been experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history.

Specifically, it is estimated that some 400,000 seafarers are stuck at sea, months beyond their contracted time, with increasing reports of severe fatigue and mental distress. 

A similar number of seafarers are trying to join ships to begin contracts, but transit to and from ships is being thwarted by travel restrictions and limitations imposed due to the pandemic. 

The major breakthroughs on the development of a coronavirus vaccine over the past couple of weeks have sparked hope that the crew change crisis might finally be winding down once the vaccines start to be distributed.

The shipping sector believes that the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and rapid, standardised testing for the virus could be crucial in helping to resolve the ongoing crew change crisis.

However, UN agencies, shipping organizations, unions and maritime and logistics businesses, insist that the focus needs to be on developing a range of practical solutions in addition to designating seafarers as key workers.   

According to a recent roundtable hosted by the IMO, these should include further pushes to implement public health corridors, regional implementation of protocols to allow ports/airports to facilitate crew changes and the concept of a tamper-proof digital health passport or certificate for seafarers.

There have been indications that the numbers of crews stuck at sea were falling as shipowners took it upon themselves to carry out expensive crew changes in order to resume operations. Nevertheless, reports of workers being stranded on board ships for over 20 months are still emerging.

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