Kenya, has finally accepted seafarers’ crew change through Port of Mombasa after the COVID-19 pandemic forced maritime states to close their borders, leaving thousands of sailors stranded aboard ships in the high-seas for months.
Kenya now joins 13 countries that agreed to the new international measures to open up borders for seafarers and to increase the number of commercial flights to expedite seafarers repatriation efforts following an international crew change summit held in London 9th July, 2020.
Kenya, thus becomes the second African country to bow to the pressure by the international communities to have maritime states open their borders for thousands of seafarers who had been denied entry into foreign countries due to the coronavirus.
Djibouti carried out the first crew change of merchant sailors in its territory on July 3rd, 2020 and is ready to do more as more seafarers look forward to joining their loved ones on land who have been stranded by the coronavirus, a senior port official said.
Lying on the Bab al-Mandab strait, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping chokepoints, Djibouti is a critical transit hub. More than 2,500 ships transit and call at its ports annually.
Continued complications with changing over ship crews due to coronavirus restrictions in some jurisdictions is still affecting supply chains despite an easing of lockdown in many parts of the world.
Some 400,000 seafarers are affected on land or on ships – with many at sea for longer than an 11-month limit laid out in a maritime labor convention.
Mr. Kitack Lim, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Secretary General in a letter to the Kenya government dated 14th July, 2020 expressed his appreciation for Kenya’s effort to facilitate crew changes and in particular, designating Mombasa as the hub port for the same and for issuing protocols in line with the IMO circular letter No.4204 of 5th May, 2020.
“ I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the positive between Kenya and IMO and wish to thank you for supporting IMO’s call to protect seafarers’ wellbeing,” Mr. Lim stated in the letter addressed to Mrs Nancy Karigithu, the Principal Secretary, State Department for Shipping and Maritime in the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, and Urban Development.
The letter further stated that, “For the past six months, IMO has worked tirelessly to support all countries to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a harmonized manner. The critical question that we shall face in the coming months is how to adapt to the ‘new normal’.”
The SG called upon all nations to act together to avoid unnecessary disruption to the shipping sector and to support the economic recovery of the industry, which he said has been significantly affected by the pandemic.
Last week’s crew change summit saw 13 nations pledge to come to the aid of thousands of seafaring crew around the world.
These included Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States of America, all of whom now recognise seafarers as key workers.
Sources at the Kenya Maritime Authority said that Kenya had a total of 570 seafarers on board various seagoing ships as at March this year when countries around the world closed their ports for crew change due to the Coronavirus.
It is therefore expected that part of these crews will get an opportunity to return home courtesy the new changes.
The UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “It is unacceptable that there remain thousands of people stranded at ports around the world and we owe it to them and their families to change things. Today marks a new chapter for seafarers and alongside our international partners we are taking, a stand to end the bureaucracy preventing men and women around the world from returning home.”
Globally there are now over 200,000 seafarers who are stranded at sea and have overrun their contracts with another 200,000 waiting to start employment and get paid by working at sea.
“This summit is a welcome show of political leadership at a time when seafarers across the world need it most. Governments must now use this summit as a catalyst to implement the solutions the shipping industry has provided, applying the political will needed to put them into practice. This issue doesn’t require money and did not need complicated negotiations. This summit is a catalyst for action,” Secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping Guy Platten.
The International Maritime Organization has created a 12-step process for states to adopt to make crew changes safe and efficient.
Reacting to the news from the keenly anticipated summit, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) called on the world’s governments to act swiftly to give seafarers visa, border and quarantine exemptions in order to make crew changes possible and resolve the present crisis.
“Governments today adopted a statement pledging to urgently take forward a range of actions to avert the global crisis that is unfolding at sea for the more than 200,000 seafarers who are trapped working on ships beyond their contracts, and desperately wanting to return home,” said ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton.
“We thank those countries who came together today for their commitment, and now call on those ministers and officials who signed the dotted line need to head back to their countries and follow through on these critical pledges by bringing in practical exemptions and waivers that allow seafarers to move freely to enable safe crew changes and repatriation to their home countries.” Cotton went on to call for action across the board.
“After months of this crew change crisis getting worse, governments must do their bit. That means that port states where ships dock; flag states where ships are registered; transit hubs with airports; and the home countries of seafarers, all need to make visa, quarantine and border exceptions for seafarers now, not tomorrow, not next week,” Cotton said.
As the summit closed, A.P. Moller-Maersk CEO Soren Skou said, “we strongly urge the relevant national governments to address the situation of these men and women and help us establish safe corridors between key countries to keep the situation from deteriorating further.”