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17 Apr 2020
4 mins
#ISupplyTheWorld – Deck Cadet Nafiz Bin Khairul Anwar

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the world’s economies and workforce. Our seafarers are still working tirelessly through this crisis to keep vital industries going, but many may not see their contribution as they are working behind the scenes to bring us vital supplies. The International Maritime Organization has, through a circular to Governments around the world, made comprehensive recommendations to include seafarers and maritime professionals as “key workers” providing an essential service.   

However, travel restrictions and quarantine measures that have been implemented worldwide to help limit the spread of COVID-19 are beginning to inadvertently create situations where seafarers are unable to leave a ship at the end of their contracts, or the inability to be repatriated home at their end of their service from a foreign port. Tens of thousands of seafarers due for a crew change now find themselves stuck at sea as many nations tighten travel bans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We speak to Deck Cadet Nafiz Bin Khairul Anwar, who was caught in the thick of such restrictions.

Difficulty faced in crew change and repatriation
Deck Cadet Nafiz was in Amsterdam where he was approaching the end of his contract and had intended to sign off his ship. After confirming through his local agent and international sources that it was possible for him to sign off, his request was rejected due to the tightened travel bans in efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.“I was worried. The morale amongst the crew was very low. It was mainly due to the uncertainty of when they might get to sign off. Majority of the crew are due for crew change after serving almost nine months onboard the ship.” Nafiz told SeaVoices.
Nafiz then contacted SMOU, who managed to successfully appeal to his manning department to grant him the green light to sign off the vessel. This would not happen without the quick assistance and understanding of the company.

“SMOU assured me that they will try their best to help me.” Nafiz said.

SMOU and MFA’s efforts help to bring Nafiz home

He eventually returned home on 3rd April, thanks to the Union and Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ round-the-clock efforts to bring him home. It was a long ride home amidst closing foreign airports, cancelled flights, and growing travel restrictions the world over.

Nafiz is now home and is currently serving is 14-day stay-home notice (SHN). He shared that SMOU officials are still checking on him till today. SMOU is also providing him with a complimentary meal from Lighthouse Bistro during the week.

“Again, I would like to thank SMOU for this kind gesture, and the staff at Lighthouse Bistro for your hard work and service. I am very heartened by the Union’s dedication and commitment in facilitating my repatriation back to Singapore with my company, serving beyond the call of duty. And to me, that’s what makes SMOU so exceptional, always caring for its members.” said Nafiz.

When asked what advice he would give to seafarers facing the same plight, he said, “To all the seafarers out there, no one could have seen this unprecedented situation coming. Do stay strong and hopeful that more flag states will be exempting seafarers from the travel bans soon. Do not hesitate to approach SMOU for assistance. Lastly, I’d like to thank the Union for their efforts in keeping the global supply chain moving.”

The same circular sent by IMO recommends Governments to grant seafarers appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions, to enable them to join and leave ships. This will need strong international collaboration across ports, airports and airlines to ensure crew changes can be resumed as soon as possible, and allow global supply chains to continue functioning.

The journey ahead will be long and uncertain. The Union will continue to stay vigilant, work with tripartite partners and people around the world, with seafaring members’ interests at heart.

Let us stand united, resilient and in solidarity with our seafarers because they supply the world.