Crew changes during the COVID-19 pandemic

Crew changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging due to border closures, a lack of aviation services and quarantine arrangements around the world. 

However, crew changes are occurring in Australia. The Australian Government continues to work closely with states and territories, and industry, to facilitate maritime trade and crew changes. 

There has been sufficient time for ship operators to adjust to the logistical challenges of the COVID-19 world and develop new plans for repatriating their seafarers and making arrangements for crew changes to take place on their ships. 

Seafarers have shouldered a heavy burden during the pandemic, maintaining global trade and keeping our economies moving by delivering vital supplies. 

However, it has come at great personal cost to seafarers who have served extended periods of time onboard ships, unable to take shore leave due to factors outside their control, and separated from their loved ones with much uncertainty around when they may be reunited again. 

This is unacceptable. Under the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, the maximum period that a seafarer can serve onboard a ship without leave is 11 months. 

AMSA is enforcing this 11-month limit to sea service and any ship arriving in Australia with seafarers onboard who have exceeded or are approaching this limit will be expected to have arrangements in place to repatriate and replace them with new crew. 

AMSA continues to undertake ship inspections as part of its robust inspection regime, to investigate complaints relating to sea service and seafarer welfare, and to respond where deficiencies are identified. 

Consequences for ship operators who fail to make arrangements for crew changes include the very real likelihood that their ships will be detained by AMSA until such action takes place if they are found to have seafarers onboard who have exceeded their maximum sea service. AMSA will not accept the risk of fatigued seafarers operating ships in Australian waters. 

Historically, a lack of fatigue management has contributed to a number of serious maritime accidents in Australia and abroad. Fatigue was, and still is, contributing to short- and long-term performance and health impairment and is a risk to seafarers and safety at sea.  

AMSA released a set of fatigue guidelines in 2020 which provide practical tools to identify fatigue at sea, report on it effectively and use evidence to improve organisational approaches to managing and reducing risk of fatigue in operational environments. Managing fatigue is more important now than ever before in these challenging times. 

The rules and regulations which allow seafarers to leave or join ships, or take shore leave in Australia during the pandemic are controlled by state and territory health departments and maritime safety agencies. It is important to source the latest information directly from the relevant state or territory authority. Maritime crew visas which allow seafarers to move across Australia’s international border are issued by the Department of Home Affairs.