Shipowners, seafarers’ unions and maritime employer groups are organizing their own approved international network of quarantine facilities to ensure seafarers are able to safely join ships, despite incalculable changes to government border policies.
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The move comes as the omicron variant incites governments to close off their borders to seafarers in need to leave and join ships.
The Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Programme (CrewEQUIP) is a joint venture between the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Together, the organizations represent more than 80% of the global merchant fleet and approximately 1 million international seafarers in almost 200 affiliated unions.
CrewEQUIP plans to create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed. The programme is mapped out to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having the highest standards and industry-best protocols and regulations in place, ensuring the plan will continue to safely get seafarers to vessels even if governments increase their quarantine requirements.
The group said that the programme is urgently in need to avoid the shipping industry returning to the worst extremes of the crew change crisis, which saw around 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard vessels way beyond their initial contracts in late 2020, with a similar number unable to join vessels and earn a living.
Although a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition is still crucial, the groups said CrewEQUIP would be important to have in place in the meanwhile to tackle greater levels of crew change.
The groups welcomed the announcement this week of a new joint World Health Organisation-International Labour Organisation industry action group to advance digital ‘yellow cards’ for seafarers and other workers who need to cross borders for their work. Yellow cards are a medical passport issued by the WHO, which could be used by transport workers and seafarers as proof of vaccination.
Under the CrewEQUIP scheme, shipping companies and their representatives such as crewing agents and vessel managers are able to sponsor pre-embarkation quarantine facilities for seafarers to be considered for recognition.
Facilities must meet CrewEQUIP’s strict standards for hygiene, testing integrity and data security.
A facility must also pass inspections by Lloyd’s Register, the programme’s recognized external auditor, to become and remain recognized CrewEQUIP providers.
From Thrusday, shipowners, shipping companies and their representatives will be able to access the online booking portal to nominate pre-embarkation quarantine facilities at crewequip.org.
IMEC chairman Captain Belal Ahmed, said: “This new quarantine facility programme will give industry more confidence to support the movement of more seafarers more regularly around the world safe in the knowledge that there is a considerably less risk of Covid-19 being introduced to a vessel if a seafarer has joined via a CrewEquip-approved facility, where the highest standards will prevail.”
Chair of the ITF Seafarers’ section, David Heindel, welcomed the #CrewEQUIP programme by saying, “A successful crew change needs everything to line up across the port states, transit countries, and the right facilities available in place in the home country of seafarers involved. Currently, even seemingly minor alterations to a government’s border, health or quarantine policies can bring a planned crew change to a halt – often leaving a seafarer with no option but to continue working onboard beyond their initial contracts. Too many seafarers will miss Christmas and other important events in the coming weeks.”
World leaders were called upon by Guy Platten, secretary general of ICS, to urgently provide a long-term solution to ensure that seafarers are no longer inordinately impacted by ever-changing travel and quarantine restrictions.
Platten said, “The reinstatement of harsh travel rules by governments as a knee-jerk response to the omicron variant is of great concern. Coordinated action must be taken by world leaders to exempt transport workers from travel restrictions and prioritise them for vaccinations and boosters. We do not want to see a return to the peak of the crew change crisis.”