Crew change process deteriorating once again as Covid-19 resurges

News / / London

The crew change crisis, which reached a peak in the middle of last year when some 400,000 seafarers were waiting to embark and disembark, has been worsening once again.

The ITF have reported that there are still thousands of seafarers working beyond their contracted times. The backlog had slowly been reduced to about 200,000, but now it appears that this number is rising again. Many thousands of crew had now been at sea for more than a year, compared with the maximum of 11 months allowed under the MLC.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary at International Transport Workers’ Federation, said that:

“The situation is going from bad to worse. We need more than lip service from governments, we need concrete action that allows crew changes to be carried out in a safe manner”. [1]

In my position as Global Senior Partner at Ince, I can not emphasise and support this message strongly enough. International Chamber of Shipping Secretary-General, Guy Platten, has said that resolving the crew change crisis would require all seafarers to have priority access to vaccines. Why can’t we facilitate this for our seafarers especially when continual high infection rates and subsequent domestic lockdowns are still challenging crew changes and causing disruption to crew movements. [1]

One example of the issue facing the sector is the position in the Philippines where there has been a decrease of daily inbound flights as well as a travel ban announced by Philippine government for seafarers traveling from the UAE, Oman, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. [1]

The leading maritime crew nations have continued to have low overall vaccination rates and we must call upon other international governments to support them.

Henrik Jensen, Managing Director at Danica, has stressed that with the summer holidays approaching, the situation could get worse. They added that the Eastern European crewing market was under extreme pressure as companies turn to places like Ukraine and Russia to replace officers and seafarers unable to travel from India or the Philippines.

Danica also stressed that with the summer holidays approaching, the situation could get worse. In addition, many seafarers want to be vaccinated before returning to the sea, and some of them were waiting for the second dose of vaccine:

“In places like Russia vaccines are generally available. However, in other countries, such as Ukraine, the demand for vaccine outstrips supply resulting in a longer waiting time. We are finding that seafarers, especially those who do not sign up immediately as their leave begins, are waiting 4-6 weeks to be vaccinated,” Jensen said.

“Once they get their first injection they have to wait a further 8-10 weeks for the second one, and then an additional 2-3 weeks for their immunity to be fully effective. This means many seafarers are now out of the loop for 16 to 20 weeks, which is about double their usual leave period and is compounding the global shortage of seafarers.” [2]

Support our Sing for Seafarers campaign

Recently, we launched our global virtual choir’s recording of Rod Stewart’s single ‘Sailing’. The single will raise money for four of the world’s leading maritime charities: The Mission to Seafarers, Sailors'​ Society, Stella Maris Org and The Seafarers’ Charity. 

As part of the ‘Sing for Seafarers’ campaign, the single has been recorded in partnership with Royal Museums Greenwich and with the support of multi-platinum record producer George Shilling and award-winning film director Athena Xenidou.

The single and music video are both out now. To donate to our 'Sing for Seafarers' campaign to support seafarers globally, click here.

For more information on the campaign, visit the dedicated page on our website here.



[1] Seatrade Maritime - Crew change crisis worsens, Neptune Indicator shows 8.8% of seafarers over contract 

[2] Hellenic Shipping News - Vaccination delays causing crew shortages and rising wages warns Danica 

Julian Clark

Julian Clark Global Senior Partner

Related sectors:

Quick links

The Legal 500 2021

“Very available and responsive to company developments in real time. Frank, clear advice – not just the ‘easy’ answer.”

The Legal 500 2022

“The solicitors who have handled our employment related issues are of the highest quality in terms of their specialist area of expertise, their professionalism and their approach to us as clients and as people. Special mention has to be made of Laura Livingstone. Laura became a key member of our team and felt more like a colleague than an external adviser – a colleague you could rely upon. Laura’s attention to detail, professionalism and responsiveness was second to none. Laura has come to know and understand us as individuals and this has enabled her to personalise her advice and even sometimes to preempt our future requirements. We have a very special and extremely valuable relationship with her and the firm.”

- The Legal 500

The Legal 500 2022

“Ince are an excellent “fit” with our specific needs. The firm has consistently provided a broad range of personnel-related advice and in our experience that advice has been consistently of the very highest professional standard: it has been timely, comprehensive, accurate and at a cost which is commensurate with the budget of an organisation of our size.”

- The Legal 500

The Legal 500 2022

“The firm has an unusually high degree of insight into the practices and policies required by the Gambling Commission as regards compliance with its own requirements and conditions – particularly Andrew Tait, derived from his previous in-house experience.”

- The Legal 500