The European and international maritime social partners together with 9 international maritime associations, are writing to the leaders of European countries, calling for urgent action to be taken to resolve the serious humanitarian crisis caused by the lack of crew changes worldwide and in Europe.

“We fully appreciate the efforts of the UK government for organising the International Maritime Virtual Summit on Crew Changes on 9 July 2020. The Ministers who attended the summit, having acknowledged the urgency of the matter, showed political leadership,” said Martin Dorsman, ECSA’s Secretary General. “However, more needs to be done.”

“Crew changes are currently only taking place at an estimated level of 30% of what is needed. Seafarers are playing an essential role in maintaining the global flow of energy, food, medicines and medical supplies by ship. Many seafarers have been away from home for months, unable to leave their ships and return home because of travel restrictions imposed by governments. Meanwhile seafarers who have been rostered to replace them are being prevented from doing so by, amongst other things, the absence of facilities for obtaining visas to travel to the places where they are scheduled to join their ships – including the Schengen area,” wrote the organisations in the letters.

“At least 200,000 and up to 300,000 seafarers currently need to be relieved and this number rises with every week that passes. Some of these seafarers have now spent 15 months or more continuously on board and are tired and fatigued,” explains Livia Spera, ETF General Secretary. “An equal number of new crew members must travel to join ships if their long-serving colleagues are to be relieved.”

The maritime organisations request the leaders to implement the commitments made in the statement issued after the 9 July Summit.

While the organisations welcome all the pledges and efforts taken so far, they warn that it is now time for the immediate involvement of all Heads of EU Member States to avoid a global trade crisis.

Various obstacles still remain and are preventing crew changes from being carried out either in or via the country where a ship is docked, depending on the Member State, such as:

  • the lack of visa issuance on arrival at the airport for on-signers joining a foreign-flagged/owned vessel in the country or transiting through to join a vessel located in another EU Member State;
  • the time limit of between 4 to 72 hours for non-EU off-signing seafarers to remain in the country before departing is too short and makes it very difficult to align disembarkation with the still limited flight options for various countries.

While the timely issuance of visas by consular missions in the residential nations where seafarers reside is the default option, the organisations ask the EU leaders to consider various improvements to the process of crew changes, including temporary visa waivers for on- and off-signers. Such visa waivers will be an important measure in facilitating and speeding up preparations for departures from third countries.

The letters also remind the leaders that this is a humanitarian crisis that also extends ashore. Without seafarers, ships cannot operate and cannot deliver goods necessary for every part of the economy. At a time of considerable stress for global and national economies, any interruption to the flow of trade could have devastating consequences for the recovery phase.

Apart from ECSA, the other signatories are: the Asian Shipowners’ Association (ASA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), BIMCO, the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), InterManager, World Shipping Council, INTERTANKO, the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (InterCargo), the International Parcel Tankers Association (IPTA), and CLIA Europe.