The following was written by Keith Thompson, President, Shipping New Zealand.
Imagine going to work with the intention of coming back home that evening but then finding out that that was not possible. Furthermore, you now have to remain at your work for weeks and even months more than you and your family had planned for. With the global pandemic still raging around us this is the sad plight of many international seafarers who traverse the globe on-board their respective ships unable to return home to see their loved ones. With many international borders closed, even getting some time onshore is now a difficult proposition.
At any one time around the world there are up to 150,000 Seafarers needing to be relieved from their position as they meet their contractual requirements for terms on-board. We are now seeing crew arriving in New Zealand who in some cases have been on-board for up to 6 months longer than the contract that they signed on for. They have been unable to find a country where they can have a replacement arrive safely to change crew and return home. This is affecting their wellbeing with many becoming increasingly anxious about their home and family, while fatigue and stress build as they find themselves stuck on-board.
In New Zealand, we recognise that the welfare of the crew on-board vessels that are arriving here is important. Crew fatigue and stress is a big problem not only for the crew’s personal welfare but also for the ongoing safety of the vessel and continuation of import and export trade that is so important for our country.
Shipping NZ Members (The NZ Association of Shipowners and Agents Inc.) have been tasked with making sure crew changes can happen here under some very strict criteria that will protect New Zealanders and the crew themselves from contracting the COVID virus. This has involved on-going
consultation and the following of rigorous guidelines as set out by the Ministry of Health, NZ Defence, NZ Customs and NZ Immigration.
It is very important to note that the Shipping NZ Agents Association have taken this responsibility very seriously to ensure that not only the welfare of the crew is taken care of but the safety of our own members and that of the public.
It is important to note that as agents we do take a proactive approach with owners by actively advising them that we have facilities in NZ to manage crew changes. Once we have been advised by the vessel’s owners or the manning company of the need to make a crew change here in NZ, we take the following steps.
- Under the Essential Workers guidelines an application is made for an Exemption to Travel to NZ.
- Once the Exemption has been approved an invitation to apply (ITA) is given so the crew members can then apply for an NZ Entry Visa (even in the case of visa waiver countries).
- Vessel arrival times must be worked through with the port so that airfares can be purchased to line up with the vessel’s arrival.
- An application is made for an “Accommodation Voucher” via an MIQ for a bed in a MIF (Managed Isolation Facility). Without this voucher the Crew member will not be permitted to board the plane for NZ.
- MIQ needs to be kept advised at all times of the full list of crew to be changed with continual updates as changes occur with flight times, vessel arrival times and port delays that affect the ship schedules.
- An application is then made for an approved MIQ Transport plan from airport to ship and vice versa. This plan describes who will be transporting the crew, the safety precautions taken in line with MOH guidelines on the wearing of PPE and distancing onboard the transport, (driver and crew), time for collection and arrival at destination, along with the route being taken by the transport operator.
- The next step is requesting approval from the local PHU (Port Health Unit) for the crew movements to take place. This includes sign off of crew by seeking an updated MDOH (Maritime Declaration of Health) from the Master along with the completion of individual crew medical assessments for each crew member departing the vessel and personal temperature logs.
- Advising all concerned stakeholders of the pending crew exchange including, PHU, Customs NZ, MPI, Port Security, Stevedores working the Vessel and Port Operations (for Pilot awareness).