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17 Sep 2020
3 mins
#ISupplyTheWorld – Deck Cadet Nabilah Huda

Safety of seafarers and safe operation of ships

Nabilah Huda, a deck cadet from the Tripartite Nautical Training Award programme, began her contract on board the ship in November 2019. She noticed that increasingly, crew members were unable sign off. As a result, many were disappointed and had to serve beyond their normal contractual tour of duty. “Some who ended their contractual terms on board were eager to return home to their families.” Nabilah told SeaVoices.

Shore leave and the seafarer’s wellbeing

“Since January, we have been advised against going on shore leave as a precautionary measure to prevent contamination. Strict measures were also put in place for shore personnel that board the ship.” She added.  

In normal times, shore leave is essential for seafarers who spend extended periods cooped up on ships. Seafarers get on shore to seek welfare, social, medical or psychological support if necessary, and to have a break from the work environment.

During these unprecedented times, it is crucial that member states take responsibility for ensuring that crew changes, medical care and shore leave for seafarers happen at their ports. A survey done in May 2020 by the Seafarers Happiness Index reported the decline in mental health of seafarers serving prolonged periods on board ships due to the COVID-19 situation. Any further delay would have severe effects on the safety, physical and mental health of seafarers. This would adversely affect the safety of ship operations which is a fundamental process of the global maritime supply chains.

Invisible humanitarian crisis occurring at sea

Crew change around the world came to a standstill since early March during the global COVID-19 outbreak. Many seafarers have had their contracts extended and are feeling both fatigued and stressed. “Lifting each other’s spirits has become a challenge. We have a long road ahead of us. As long as we stay safe and abide by the safety measures put in place, we hope to get home eventually.” Nabilah recounted.

Recognising the ongoing challenges to effect crew change due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SMOU together with tripartite partners: Singapore Shipping Association and Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, in cooperation with the International Maritime Employers’ Council and the World Shipping Council formed the Singapore Crew Change Workgroup to develop a guidebook.

The Crew Change Guidebook was endorsed by the International Maritime Organization and it provides guidance to the shipping community on how to effect crew change during this crisis. The workgroup has been continuously refining the document to keep up with the development of the ongoing pandemic so that crew change can be addressed promptly and effectively.

As seafarers continue to selflessly supply the world with necessities, we want to urge the maritime community to continue adhering to protocols provided in the Crew Change Guidebook. Let us do our part to recognise seafarers as ‘key workers’ of our industry!