Photo courtesy ICS

Shipping Groups Launch Seafarer Quarantine Network as Omicron Spread Threatens Border Restrictions

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December 16, 2021

Leading shipping groups representing shipowners, seafarers’ unions, and maritime employers have partnered up to establish their own international network of approved quarantine facilities to help ensure seafarers can safely join ships amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

The move comes as the spread of the new variant threatens unpredictable changes to government border policies, complicating seafarers’ abilities to leave and join ships.

The Crew Enhanced Quarantine International Programme, or #CrewEQUIP for short, was launched between the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which collectively represent more than 80 percent of the global merchant fleet and almost 1 million international seafarers through almost 200 affiliated unions.

The program will create a list of trusted hotels available for crew quarantines that are independently reviewed. The program is designed to overcome frequent changes in government border policies affecting international crew by having the highest standards and industry-best protocols in place, ensuring crew members can safely get to vessels even if governments increase quarantine requirements.

The groups said the program is urgently needed to avoid the shipping industry returning to the worst extremes of the crew change crisis, which at its peak saw in late 2020 had 400,000 seafarers trapped working aboard vessels beyond their initial contracts, with an equivalent number unable to join vessels and earn income.

While a global, permanent system with digital vaccine and testing recognition is still urgently needed, the groups said #CrewEQUIP would be important to have in place in the meantime to support greater levels of crew change. The groups also welcomed the announcement this week of a new joint WHO-ILO-industry action group to advance digital ‘yellow cards’ for seafarers and other workers who need to cross borders for their jobs.

Under the #CrewEQUIP scheme, shipping companies and their representatives such as crewing agents and vessel managers are able to sponsor pre-embarkation quarantine facilities for seafarers to be considered for recognition. Facilities must meet #CrewEQUIP’s stringent standards for hygiene, testing integrity and data security.

A facility must also pass inspections by Lloyd’s Register, the program’s recognized external auditor, to become and remain recognized #CrewEQUIP providers.

“ICS is delighted to work in partnership with IMEC and ITF on this essential programme.” #CrewEquip will make the quarantine process smoother for both seafarers and shipowners and ensure high standards are upheld,” said Guy Platten, Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping.

“However, world leaders need to urgently provide a long-term solution to ensure that seafarers are no longer unduly impacted by ever-changing travel and quarantine restrictions. The reinstatement of harsh travel rules by governments as a knee-jerk response to the Omicron variant is of great concern. Coordinated action must be taken by world leaders to exempt transport workers from travel restrictions and prioritise them for vaccinations and boosters. We do not want to see a return to the peak of the crew change crisis,” said Platten.

“Seafarers have been, and continue to be, severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Captain Belal Ahmed, Chairman of International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC). “While the world has repeatedly gone into lockdown, seafarers have worked tirelessly to keep international trade continuously moving and ultimately to ensure that the world’s population are kept nourished and warm. Yet, despite the important work seafarers undertake, many governments have made the movement of these key workers on and off ships far from easy.”

Starting today, shipowners, shipping companies and their representatives will be able to access the online booking portal to nominate pre-embarkation quarantine facilities at crewequip.org.

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