MSC approves protocols to help stranded seafarers

An important set of protocols to help ensure safe crew changes and to emphasise the need for Governments to designate seafarers during as key workers has been approved by the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee.

Around 400,000 seafarers are still said to be stranded onboard vessels amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with many having seen their contracts extended months beyond the maximum duration of service periods accepted under international treaties, while many crew members are also still waiting to join ships.

The Committee, meeting virtually for its 102nd session (4 to 11 November) approved an MSC circular recognising the industry-developed protocols (previously issued via circular letter), which also include practical steps for joining and leaving ships, including the need for compliance and strict adherence with COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, and measures to prevent infection onboard ships. They are a living document which will be updated in line with developments concerning the pandemic.

The move to issue the crew change protocols via an official IMO circular (MSC.1/Circ.1636) was one of a number of actions taken by the Committee to support efforts by UN agencies, the maritime industry and governments to address the crew change crisis.

Up-to-date information on national focal points and on ports which facilitate crew changes will be made available on a new module in IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS), following the agreement of the Committee.

The MSC agreed that IMO, working with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), develop a universal non-text logo or symbol that enables seafarers to identify, and consequently access, dedicated resources and processes on ship, in port and in transit to/from ships.