By Rajesh Divakaran, Head of Marine HR / MLC Officer
Travel restrictions imposed by various nations across the world have significantly affected seafarers. Statistics reveal that a rising number of seafarers have completed their contracts and are waiting to sign off from vessels or are stuck in a foreign port awaiting homebound flights.
At Thome, we are still facing challenges similar to those faced by the other ship managers in the industry. When the COVID-19 epidemic started, we were amongst one of the first ship managers to initiate and implement a Business Continuity plan (BCP) in the early periods of the outbreak for the shore team. At the same time, we introduced a pandemic committee to address the various challenges in implementing the BCP for our vessels.
We initiated some crew changes, wherever it was possible, up until 11th Mar 2020. On 11th Mar 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID -19 as a pandemic disease, resulting in a rapid amendment of immigration rules in most of the affected countries, which subsequently disrupted ongoing crew changes. These last minute changes to immigration laws forbade crew members on some vessels from signing off even though their relievers were onboard.
We also have crew from a vessel waiting in a hotel to travel back to India and the Philippines, after the vessel was re-delivered.
The highly fluid nature of these immigration rule alterations led the Thome Group to suspend crew changes for 4 weeks from 15th Mar 2020 and the fleet was duly informed.
The safety of the crew is of utmost importance for the Thome Group and clear guidelines were provided to the vessels on how to prevent COVID -19 while calling at port or while allowing visitors onboard. Weekly updates on the COVID situation and guidelines were provided to the fleet, along with supplies of the required PPE and other necessary items.
Vessel managers and crewing operation personnel are in regular contact with the vessels, monitoring the wellbeing of the crew as well as the stock of PPE onboard.
Our seafarers have been very understanding and cooperative, despite the emotions and frustrations they are going through, especially the ones unable to go home after finishing their contract whose families need their physical support. We sincerely acknowledge and appreciate their cooperation during these challenging times.
Thome has initiated measures to support the seafarers by implementing a seafarer’s mental health support helpline with ISWAN (International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network). We are also working closely with vessel owners to increase the free wi-fi and telephone services for seafarers, assisting them to frequently connect their loved ones ashore.
Thome, through our worldwide manning offices, has reached out to the families of all the crew who were unable to sign off and offered them the required assistance and support. We also thank the family members of all our seafarers who have been very understanding and supportive despite their personal difficulties.
At present, Thome is working with the others in the industry to get the seafarers declared as “Essential Service Personnel” by all countries, which will enable them to travel worldwide. As more and more countries are accepting this, we hope that we shall be able to resume the crew changes without further delay.
Thome Group management appreciates and would like to thank all our seafarers for their co-operation, understanding and patience during these challenging times. We request all our seafarers worldwide to be vigilant and continue practices of hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks when necessary to safeguard themselves from COVID-19.