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International Forwarding Association Blog » Sea freight in Europe » Crew Change Crisis Waning but Challenges Are Still Ahead
The crew change crisis

Crew Change Crisis Waning but Challenges Are Still Ahead

The crew change crisis seem to have stabilized despite a shortage of Ukrainian and Russian mariners and the restrictions imposed in Japan. Figures show that the number of crews stranded onboard ships beyond contract expiry is down to 4.3 percent in June, compared to 4.5 percent in May, 2022. The number of mariners onboard ships for 11 months or longer has remained steady at 0.3 percent. According to ship managers, there are both negative and positive crew change trends.

Positive Trends

The number of confirmed cases onboard ships has declined while China is easing restrictions on crew changes, which have been imposed in response to the recent Covid-19 outbreak. The crew change indicator also shows an increase in crew vaccination rates, with 86.2 percent in June compared to 83.6 percent in May. Some operators report difficulties getting crews vaccinated but are following up with seafarers to confirm their vaccination status once in their home countries.

Negative Trends

Access to booster shots and the risk of infections are still major concerns. Industry analysts also report a low vaccination prevalence in some countries, and such is the case with Filipino seafarers. There is also vaccine hesitancy in some seafarer countries, including among Russian and Eastern European crews. As mariners are required to show proof of vaccination, those who are not fully vaccinated are unable to board ships so that crews onboard disembark.

Additionally, there is a shortage of Ukrainian and Russian crews due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Complicating the issue is the fact that airlines have cancelled flights to the area. Currently, Russian and Ukrainian crews account for 14.5 percent of seafarers, with over 76,000 Ukrainians and 198,000 Russian mariners.

In addition to crew change difficulties, the ongoing conflict poses multiple risks related to crew security and safety. Mariners of different nationalities have been stranded onboard ships, crews have been injured and killed, and vessels have been damaged by munitions. At the same time, many ship owners have asked crews to remain onboard beyond contract expiry because staff movement to and out of Ukraine has become increasingly difficult.

Why Is the Crew Change Crisis a Humanitarian Issue?

Crew changes are required under international maritime regulations to ensure the welfare, health, and safety of seafarers. Crews often work 7 days a week, 10 – 12 hours a day, and working for an extended period poses a risk for their wellbeing, health, and safety. Stranded onboard beyond contract expiry, crews often experience mental stress, anxiety, fatigue, and exhaustion.

 Challenges That Need to Be Addressed

There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed, including flights via multiple airports, visa issues, and arranging alternative transport for mariners. Many international freight forwarding organizations, UN agencies, and the UN Secretary General have asked for governments to address the issue and ensure compliance with the Maritime Labor Convention. With seafarers playing a key role in global supply chains, governments need to honor their commitments when it comes to repatriation, length of service, and access to medical care.