The European Commission has issued guidelines aimed at helping to repatriate seafarers stuck on ships amid coronavirus lockdown measures and resolve the current crew-change crisis.
The guidelines are calling on the EU member states to create a network of ports where crew changes can take place without delays.
The prolonged stay of seafarers on board ships has been a hot topic over the past few weeks and industry bodies have been urging governments to take immediate action and facilitate seafarers’ repatriation.
The cruise industry has been one of the worst-hit sectors by the pandemic and reports indicate thousands of crew members remain unable to disembark ships and return to their homes.
“The guidelines adopted today (April 8th) include sanitary advice, recommendations for crew changes, disembarking, and repatriation for seafarers and passengers. I am asking the Member States to designate ports where fast-track crew changes take place and recall that cruise operators have a responsibility to their customers and employees to bring everyone safely home,” Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said.
For non-EU nationals who need visas to disembark within the EU and who could not apply for them due to the current situation, member states were told to grant these at the border so that they may be quickly repatriated.
Furthermore, the commission said that cruise operators should take overall responsibility for arranging the repatriation of passengers and crews from their cruise ships, including from non-EU ports.
“The commission calls on flag states to help the operators identify the appropriate ports for disembarkation and support them in arranging disembarkation and repatriation of their customers and crew. If individuals on board are known to be infected with the coronavirus, the vessels should be directed to a port in close proximity where hospitals have sufficient capacity,” the commission added.
Commercial shipping has been relatively spared from major outbreaks on board ships, when compared to the cruise sector, mainly due to diligent hygiene and discipline of the crew members who are practicing social distancing measures and refraining from unnecessary disembarkation of their vessels.
Ships have already been mandated to provide a declaration of health of all crew members on board before entering a port. Port authorities have also introduced quarantines for ships coming from risk areas with high number of infections.
However, there have been numerous reports that seafarers lacked necessary protective equipment in order to be able to safely perform their operations during the pandemic.
In that context, the commission urged for relevant stakeholders to provide their crews with personal protective equipment and for seafarers to have access to adequate medical care if in need.
In line with the guidelines, in cases where all members of a crew are healthy and if their previous port call took place more than a fortnight ago, they should not be quarantined when they disembark to repatriate.
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