Maersk says crew change situation not tenable as it pushes with repatriation efforts

Danish container shipping major Maersk is pushing forward with the repatriation of its seafarers, like many shipowners in the industry.

One of the latest examples saw seven members of the Rhine Maersk, a Danish-flagged 4,500 TEU containership, being repatriated to their home countries from Panamá.

Maersk said that the crew change was made possible by the close collaboration between Maersk and the Maritime Authority of Panama, where strict safety protocols were followed ensuring everyone’s safety throughout the process.

The seven crew members were transported from the Panama Canal to their flight which took them to Amsterdam and Copenhagen. From there, they will take connecting flights in their home countries. At the same time, 6 new colleagues arrived by air, to sign on Rhine Maersk and continue on her journey.

This is the second repatriation of a crew that was carried out from Panama. The first one took place last Sunday, July 12 on San Pasley vessel, where thirteen crew members managed to repatriate thanks to a humanitarian flight.

“Our colleagues at sea play a central role in serving our customers and keeping supply chains moving. I am pleased to see that our efforts in engaging with the authorities in regard to crew changes is paying off,” Pavan Chhabra, Head of Americas Marine of Maersk, said.

Nevertheless, the company insists that the situation is not tenable, urging for global governments and port states to rise to the occasion and end the crisis which could have colossal consequences on global trade if it persists.

Despite the best efforts of ship owners, operators, and crew agencies, certain things fall beyond their jurisdiction and power.

Therefore, the latest example might seem a drop in the ocean as thousands of seafarers remain stranded on their vessels, however, it also serves as evidence that they can be done if relevant authorities come together.

The industry bodies continue to call on more countries to act on crew changes on the back of the pledge of 13 nations to facilitate seafarer repatriation at a recent ministerial summit hosted by the UK Government.

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The countries included Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Pledges include designating seafarers as key workers; accepting seafarersʹ ID documents as evidence of their key worker status; implementing the industry approved protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changeover; reviewing national quarantine restrictions; and increasing access, as soon as possible, to commercial flights to and from the principal countries of origin of seafarers.

After the summit, BIMCO, the world’s largest shipowner association, voiced concerns about the number of participants and the lack of timescales for concrete actions. 

“The absence of many key countries from the international community at the summit highlights the apparent indifference of some governments towards the crew change crisis and their lack of understanding of the critical role seafarers play in keeping international trade moving,” says David Loosley, BIMCO Secretary-General, who took over the position from Angus Frew in July 2020.

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), and the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA),  joined the calls for cooperation of governments on the issue, amid increasing physical and mental strain of seafarers.

Furthermore, there is a growing fear and concern among seafarers at home unable to secure new contracts and ensure financial means for them and very frequently their extended families.

As such, the situation is becoming ever more urgent.