By Rajesh Divakaran, Head of Marine HR / MLC Officer
Travel restrictions imposed by various nations across the world have significantly affected seafarers. Statistics reveal an estimated number of 150,000 seafarers, who have completed their contracts and are waiting to sign off from various vessels or are stuck in a foreign port awaiting homebound flights.
At Thome, we are still facing challenges similar to those faced by 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 the vessels.
We initiated a few crew changes wherever it was possible up to 11th Mar 2020. On 11th Mar 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID -19 as a pandemic disease, resulting in rapid amendments of immigration rules in most countries, which subsequently affected the 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 had crew from a vessel waiting in a hotel to travel back to India and Philippines, after the vessel was re-delivered.
The highly fluidic nature of the immigration rules led Thome Group to suspend crew changes for 4 weeks from 15th Mar 2020 and the fleet was informed of this decision.
Safety of the crew is of utmost importance for the Thome Group and clear guidelines were provided to the vessels on how to prevent spread of COVID -19 while calling at ports and allowing visitors onboard. Weekly updates on the COVID situation and guidelines were provided to the fleet, along with supply 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.
The seafarers have been very understanding and co-operative, despite the emotions and frustrations they are going through, especially the ones unable to go home after finishing their contract as well as the others, whose families need their physical support. We sincerely acknowledge and appreciate the cooperation they have extended, 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 the vessel owners to increase the free wi-fi and telephone services to the seafarers assisting them to frequently connect with their loved ones ashore.
Thome, through its 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 the countries, which will enable their movements worldwide. As more and more countries are accepting this, we hope that we shall be able to resume the crew changes without much 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.