Kitack Lim

IMO Secretary-General slams ‘no crew change’ clause as crew change crisis enters its 10th month

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has criticized the “no crew change” clauses in charterparties, stressing that such clauses exacerbate the dire situation of stranded seafarers and undermine the efforts undertaken to resolve the ongoing crew change crisis. 

IMO Secretary General-Kitack Lim; Image by Offshore Energy

The so-called “no crew change” clauses, which are demanded by certain charterers, state that no crew changes can occur whilst the charterer’s cargo is onboard – hence not allowing the ship to deviate to ports where crew changes could take place. 

The clauses are being pursued at a time when over 400,000 seafarers are stranded at sea due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, well beyond their contract expirations, and over 400,000 seafarers unable to sign onto ships.

The crew change crisis is now in its tenth month. The extended times at sea are taking their toll on the physical and mental health of the seafarers who have kept the global trade running despite global lockdowns.

Lim called upon all charterers in a letter to refrain from requesting to include “no crew change” clauses in charterparties, and further called upon shipowners and operators to reject them if they are demanded.  

“Such clauses exacerbate the mental and physical fatigue among exhausted seafarers, undermine compliance with the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended (MLC, 2006) and further threaten the safety of navigation”, Lim said. He added that alternative contractual clauses that do allow for crew changes during the pandemic are available and should be utilized.  

“Resolving the crew change crisis requires the best efforts of all stakeholders.  The elimination of the use of “no crew change” clauses is just one of those efforts”, the Secretary-General said.

At the latest meeting of IMO’s Legal Committee, LEG 107, international organizations made statements to condemn the use of “no crew change” clauses in charterparties. The committee invited submissions on the matter to its 108th session, scheduled to take place in July 2021.  

“The situation continues to constitute a humanitarian crisis that threatens not only seafarers’ health and wellbeing but also the safety of navigation and the uninterrupted flow of the global supply chain,” Lim insisted, adding: “policies or practices that prevent or inhibit safe, regular crew changes should be revised or eliminated.” 

 There have also been some encouraging signs of progress in the application of the industry-developed framework of protocols for ensuring safe crew changes and travel during the pandemic.

As of 18 December, 46 IMO member states and one associate member have designated seafarers as key workers, an essential step to exempt them from specific COVID-related travel restrictions, get repatriated and sign onto ships.