Tens of thousands of ships’ crews are stranded throughout the world as COVID-19 shuts down international flights, creating a potential new crisis for international trade.
Ship docked

With more than 90% of global air routes hit by some sort of travel restriction, crews cannot get back to their homes after finishing their tours of duty and new crews cannot be flown in to replace them, says the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).

The chamber is joining forces with IATA to call on governments to set up repatriation or relocation flights for about 100,000 seafarers a month. It warns that crew rotations are urgently needed to avoid safety problems that could damage the global supply chain.

“We are working with the airlines to come forward with solutions,” said ICS Secretary General Guy Platten. “We now need governments to support our seafarers and facilitate safe passage for them. Requiring seafarers to stay on board their ships indefinitely will seriously compromise safety and the efficiency of global trade.”

Crew rotation is also required under international maritime regulations protecting safety, crew health and welfare. 

Crew members that can find flights are also being delayed by immigration and health screening protocols, including quarantine measures, which further hampers the ability of merchant ships to conduct necessary crew changes. 

“If governments identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols, airlines can help keep global logistics moving,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

He noted that governments need to identify key airports close to major shipping lanes that have direct air connections to countries that provide most of the world’s shipping crew. China, India, the Philippines and countries in the EU and eastern Europe are home to 80% of the global merchant navy crew.

Aviation and shipping companies face common challenges in carrying out crew changes while navigating immigration and quarantine restrictions introduced by many governments around the world.

IATA and ICS are working with their global regulators—the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) respectively—on recommendations to governments for standardized procedures and protocols for positioning crews while preventing the further spread of COVID-19.

About 90% of global trade volume is delivered by ship and airlines carry about 35% of global trade by value. G20 governments, at their recent emergency meetings, identified the need to prioritize air and sea logistics networks. 

Picture Credit | ICS