How to solve COVID’s crew change crisis and protect global supply chains

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jeremy Nixon, Chief Executive Officer, Ocean Network Express Pte. Ltd


  • Over 1 million seafarers work in tough conditions to support 80% of global trade.
  • COVID-19 pandemic has stranded vast numbers of these key workers at sea.
  • We outline the urgent support and health protection measures needed from stakeholders across the supply chain.

Around 80% of global trade is transported by ships, and the maritime supply chain is supported by more than 1 million seafarers who are key in delivering the services needed to run our societies. Even as the world slowed down as a result of the pandemic, seafarers did not stop, but kept the supply chain running to ensure goods could reach their destination. This allowed world trade to continue, but it did so at great cost to the seafarers. https://open.spotify.com/embed/episode/4Antx0TcXZtgVAsZR4ss52

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crew change crisis which has led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being impacted and, in many instances, left stranded on ships beyond the expiry of their contracts.

The crisis has now been ongoing for more than a year and a half, and the latest data shows the situation is getting worse – despite efforts by the maritime community, including over 800 organizations who have signed up to the Neptune Declaration. The Declaration was launched in January 2021 to respond to the crew change crisis, outlining key actions that need to be taken to resolve it by governments, companies and other stakeholders.

Our collective failure to properly address the crew change crisis puts the seafarers, who are key in supporting global trade, in an unacceptable situation. It prevents them from returning home to their loved ones and the extended periods at sea have significant consequences on their physical and mental wellbeing. If left unresolved, the difficulties in carrying out crew changes could expand as seafarers understandably start considering if they want to return to sea, which could pose a threat to the resilience of global supply chains. coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

There is an urgent need to address the further deteriorating crew change crisis. Data from the 10 largest ship managers, published through the Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator reported a more than 50% increase between May and July in the proportion of seafarers onboard vessels beyond their contract expiry.

With the fast-spreading delta variant, governments have tightened restrictions, closed borders and stopped crew changes, often imposing stricter requirements for seafarers than for citizens or other travellers despite the critical role seafarers play in global supply chains.

Key measures can help solve crisis

Protecting global supply chains and the wellbeing of seafarers will thus require governments to allow crew changes to take place in the safest manner possible. This can be done by implementing high-quality health protocols based on the highest practicable standards, such as The Recommended Framework of Protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,which has been recognized by the International Maritime Organization or the STAR Crew Change Protocols, which are based on existing best practice.

Projected size of the global shipping container market between 2019 and 2027
A ship-load of trade. Image: Statista

All stakeholders in the maritime logistics chain must also live up to their shared responsibility to ensure necessary crew changes can be carried out. No companies, including charterers, should use contracts prohibiting necessary changes, as has been frequently reported. Instead, ship owners and charterers should share relevant information transparently and collaborate to ensure that necessary crew changes can take place with the least impact possible in terms of cost and delays and high-quality health protocols should be implemented in line with the best practices developed by a group of leading charterers and described in the Neptune Declaration Best Practices for Charterers.

Vaccination programmes urgently needed

While allowing crew changes to take place in the current situation is necessary, it will only help alleviate the symptoms of the crisis. Resolving this crisis will require seafarers to have access to vaccines. There has been some progress as a limited number of international seafarers have started to get access to vaccines, for instance in the US where vaccination programmes are being rolled out for national and non-national seafarers. Nonetheless, the vast majority of seafarers, especially from developing countries, are still unable to be vaccinated.

Stakeholders from large seafaring nations, such as the Philippines, are reporting vaccine shortages and limited capacity. Meanwhile, some vaccinated seafarers also continue to face travel restrictions, constraining their ability to return home or travel to onboarding ports. It is therefore urgent that countries, who have spare doses of vaccines, prioritize international seafarers, whom close to 60 countries have designated as key workers, when allocating surplus vaccines.

Time for the global community to step up

Seafarers are the key workers supporting the more than 80% of global trade. In recent months we have seen the fragility of global supply chains with the temporary blockage of the Suez Canal and cessation of Yantian port operations. We have a responsibility as a global community to take action to protect the seafarers who play this crucial role in these very difficult circumstances, not just for the sake of the seafarers and their families, but also for the billions of people like us who are dependent on international shipping to bring the food, energy and manufactured goods that we all rely on in our daily lives.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Top UN rights official urges transparent probe into Khashoggi disappearance

Neither side stands to benefit in US-China trade spat, UN says

Questions and Answers on issues about the digital copyright directive

EP President calls for emergency assistance to migrants stranded on Open Arms boat

Women’s rights face global pushback from conservativism, fundamentalism – UN experts warn

Team Europe: €34 billion disbursed so far to tackle COVID-19 in partner countries

Here’s why China’s trade deal with Mauritius matters

Data marketplaces can transform economies. Here’s how

Eurozone: Even good statistics mean deeper recession

Primary Care: a way to provide Palliative Care in Universal Health Coverage

To solve the climate crisis, we need an investment revolution

Creating shared value: an opportunity and challenge for entrepreneurship

Bulgaria: MEPs call for EU values to be fully and unconditionally respected

JADE President opens JADE Spring Meeting 2014

Being blinded by labels stops social change. Art helps us see a better future

As threats to IoT devices evolve, can security keep up?

Innovation and entrepreneurship can cut waste and deliver the circular economy

EU Budget 2020 conciliation talks suspended

Global immunization is having its annual check-up. What can we learn?

UN cooperation with League of Arab States ‘pivotal’, UN chief tells Security Council

EU Budget 2019 to focus on young people

Three experts on why eradicating plastic pollution will help achieve gender equality

Berlin wants to break South’s politico-economic standing

This is where teachers are most (and least) respected

Understanding the gender gap in the Global South

European Parliament approves new copyright rules for the internet

Chile ups foreign bribery enforcement but flawed case resolutions are insufficient to ensure transparency and accountability

India’s economy is an ‘elephant that is starting to run’, according to the IMF

What will Germany look like after the next election?

Half the world’s population is still offline. Here’s why that matters

As G7 calls time on coal, have you checked your supply chain?

Campaign kicks off with High-level Event on #FairInternships

Could 2021 be a turning point for forests and climate change?

New UN Syria envoy pledges to work ‘impartially and diligently’ towards peace

The sustainable fashion revolution is well underway. These 5 trends prove it

Arrest of three Libyans wanted for grave crimes ‘would send strong and necessary message’ to victims, urges top Prosecutor

Rule of Law mechanism applies without further delay as of 1 January, MEPs stress

Indonesia has a plan to deal with its plastic waste problem

Rise in violent conflict shows prevention ‘more necessary than ever’: UN chief

Yemen: ‘A great first step’ UN declares as aid team accesses grain silo which can feed millions

Using CO2 as an industrial feedstock could change the world. Here’s how

Protecting European consumers: toys and cars on top of the list of dangerous products

MEPs call for the protection of fundamental values in the EU and worldwide

The West and Russia accomplished the dismembering and the economic destruction of Ukraine

WHO chief underscores need to address climate change following visit to Bahamas

After the George Floyd protests, what next for racial justice in the US?

80,000 youngsters at risk in DRC after forcible expulsion from Angola: UNICEF

Don’t take African generosity towards refugees for granted, says UN refugee chief

Humanitarian action: New outlook for EU’s global aid delivery challenged by COVID-19

Food choices today, impact health of both ‘people and planet’ tomorrow

From DIY editing to matchmaking by DNA: how human genomics is changing society

How global tech can drive local healthcare innovation in China

Here’s why the tech sector could be the next target for Chinese investment in Africa

Is South Korea set to lose from its FTA with the EU?

Artificial Intelligence raises ethical, policy challenges – UN expert

The future of manufacturing is smart, secure and stable

European Semester Autumn Package: Bolstering inclusive and sustainable growth

Can the world take the risk of a new financial armageddon so that IMF doesn’t lose face towards Tsipras?

GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa: Rise of the Digital Citizen, Kigali 16 – 18 July 2019, in association with The European Sting

Universal Health Coverage will ‘drive progress’ on 2030 Development Agenda

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: