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Australia to Return to Pre-Covid Maximum Shipboard Service Limits for Seafarers

Mike Schuler
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November 16, 2020

FILE PHOTO: / Zoya_Yakovleva

Australia is set to end interim regulations that have allowed seafarers to work beyond the maximum time limits set out in international maritime labor regulations amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) announced Monday that from 28 February 2021, the interim COVID arrangements which have permitted seafarers to serve longer than 11 months on-board ships will end.

Under the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006), eleven months is the maximum period that a seafarer can serve aboard a vessel without leave. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures, AMSA said it has been forced to take “a pragmatic approach to compliance with this requirement” as hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stuck working beyond the original scope of their employment contracts.

The so-called crew change crisis prompted the AMSA in June to issue temporary arrangements for the maximum period of shipboard service for seafarers during COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the past six months, AMSA has monitored the level of compliance and intervened to ensure the repatriation of seafarers whose duration on board were excessive. AMSA has now issued a new marine notice, Marine Notice 10/2020, stating a return to international requirements, of no more than 11 continuous months on board, will be applied from 28 February 2021,” the AMSA said in a statement.

This means that as of February 28, 2021, the AMSA will revert to the compliance and enforcement approach outlined in Marine Notice 17/2016 related the maximum continuous period that a seafarer can serve on board a vessel without taking leave.

AMSA’s General Manager of Operations Allan Schwartz said that while flexibility on the part of regulators was necessary when the COVID-19 pandemic began, keeping seafarers on board ships for longer than 11 months is not sustainable going forward.

“In our view there has been sufficient time for ship operators to adjust to the COVID-19 world and develop new plans for seafarer repatriation and crew changes,” Schwartz said.

“Seafarers have shouldered a heavy burden during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining global trade and our keeping our economies moving by delivering the vital supplies that we all need. But it has come at a personal cost to the seafarers who have spent longer on board ships, unable to take shore leave due to mandatory quarantine and separated from their friends and families.

“It’s time the seafarers are recognized for their efforts and we all make the effort to get them home on time,” Schwartz added.

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