Singapore Loosens Restrictions on Crew Changes

Seafarer health screening at the Port of Singapore before the COVID-19 shutdown, January 2020 (PSA)

Published May 25, 2020 8:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

Responding to the growing demand for crew change arrangements and the rising number of crewmembers stuck at sea, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has announced that it is loosening its restriction on mariner movements through the seaport. 

After discussions with representatives from industry and maritime labor groups, MPA will now allow crew changes for:
- seafarers whose employment contract has expired
- additional crewmembers on board whose sign-off would not affect the safe manning of the ship
- change of crew due to the sale or purchase of ship
- personnel who are not part of the ship’s crew, such as superintendents and service engineers.

Crew movements are still subject to stringent conditions. Seafarers who are signing off must be able to confirm that they have not been off the ship within the past 14 days and have not been ill during that period. They must have a fit-for-travel medical certificate issued by a Singaporean doctor, and they must be able to show documentation proving the reason for their departure - e.g., the expiry of their employment contract or the sale/purchase agreement showing that their ship has changed hands. 

Individuals who are signing on also face tough requirements prior to arrival. They must be able to confirm that they have been in quarantine in their home country for at least two weeks and have been well throughout the period. They also must take a COVID-19 lab test in their home country no more than two days prior to travel to Singapore, and they must have a local doctor issue a fit-to-travel medical certificate no more than 24 hours before their flight. 

All arrivals and departures must transit directly between the airport (or other arrival point) and the ship, with no stops in between. If any ship disembarks seafarers, it cannot leave the dock until the former crewmembers have left the country - giving the ship manager a strong incentive to ensure that no seafarers stray from the plan. 

Any crew movements are subject to a 14-day advance notice requirement. 

The new policy expands on Singapore's existing allowance for critical crew change movements - like travel allowances for crewmembers who have served their maximum allowable time on board, compassionate grounds for seafarers who have lost a family member at home, or seafarers who are no longer medically fit to work. 

ITF and ICS call for UN action

The International Transport Workers' Federation and the International Chamber of Shipping are calling on the Secretary-General of the United Nations to press port states on seafarer movement arrangements. 

“There are now over 200,000 seafarers onboard vessels worldwide who have completed their contractual tour of duty, but have been prevented from returning home. Many of these seafarers will be experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and reduced ability to safely perform their roles in the face of increasing fatigue," ITF and ICS wrote in a joint letter. “Additionally, stringent restrictions imposed by many countries, including denial of shore leave and access to essential medical assistance, is contributing to fatigue and exhaustion. We are concerned about suicide and self-harm amongst this vulnerable population of workers.”

ICS and ITF framed the problem as a human rights issue that UN member states are obligated to address.

“There are 200,000 seafarers out there right now desperate to get home to their own beds, see their families and hug their kids. They’ve been stuck on these ships, keeping global trade running since this pandemic blew up. Enough is enough – they have earned their ticket home. Now governments must make that happen," said Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the ITF.