The omicron Covid-19 variant, discovered last month in South Africa, is already wreaking havoc on crew change operations around the world.
Fears that the new variety is more contagious than previous forms have prompted travel restrictions at many major hubs. Singapore, one of the world’s most important crew change hubs, has barred ships from Africa from entering, while Hong Kong, another important Asian hub, has put 44 countries on a high-risk list, meaning ships calling at these countries 21 days or less before arriving in the Chinese city will not be allowed to change crews.
The omicron concerns come at a time when the crew change problem appears to be subsiding, with recent data suggesting that fewer seafarers have been working onboard vessels after their contracts have expired in recent weeks.
“The spread of the new omicron variant could lead to a reversal of these positive trends. It is important that governments treat seafarers as key workers and continue to allow crew changes, when the proper health protocols are respected,” commented Kasper Søgaard, managing director, head of institutional strategy and development at the non-profit organisation Global Maritime Forum, which helps tracks crew change numbers.
“We are bracing for impact and buckling up our seatbelts. We are expecting longer quarantine period, tighter testing regime and restrictions for vessels coming from South Africa and neighbouring countries,” warned Carl Schou, president and CEO of Wilhelmsen Ship Management.
Some Fleet crewmembers have already become stranded in South Africa due to travel restrictions, according to Kishore Rajvanshy, managing director of Fleet Management, one of the world’s top three ship managers.
“We’re all holding our breath and hoping that this new variant isn’t going to have a long-term effect on circumstances that are already challenging,” Rajvanshy told Splash.
Henrik Jensen, CEO of crew management specialist Danica, claimed his company had to cancel a crew change in South Africa because the off-signing crew’s scheduled flights were canceled.
“We cross our fingers that the countries which are now allowing seafarers through for crew changes will continue to do so and that the availability of international flights will not be affected too much,” Jensen said.
Last year, the crew change issue saw over 400,000 sailors working over the terms of their contracts.