Articles from the Silver Shemmings Ash Team on contractual matters, recent case law changes and items of interest in the construction and property world

COVID19 Vs The Shipping Industry & Crews

May 21, 2020 | Silver Shemmings

Many sections of society have certainly felt the strain of the Covid-19 restrictions. The old, those who have lost their jobs, those furloughed and business owners who have seen their businesses income reduced to nothing overnight. Everyone has felt the impact of the movement restrictions and the social distancing measures. But at least most of us are in our homes, some of us with gardens and many of us with our direct families – we can at least leave our homes to exercise once a day and have the opportunity to get food so some activity with a little interaction with others

That though is not true for many seafarers, although their role is essential at the present time in delivering cargoes, many of which contain vital supplies. No matter how large a ship is, you can only walk around it so many times, ships are at the mercy of the weather, and relationships between crew members become strained the longer they are together

The vast majority of goods entering any country come by ship and those ships need crews to operate them. Crews, however, need to change after a certain period of time and it is these crew changes that are causing the seafaring community a great deal of difficulty currently with the restrictions in place. There are a number of other issues faced by the seafaring community as well.

The UK Chamber of Commerce highlighted some of the issues with crew changes recently:


Reports that Polish crew members of an offshore vessel who were due to be relieved and repatriate can, in theory, go home but their replacements cannot leave Poland to join the ship. Hence the current crew are being kept on board whilst their replacements are being denied the opportunity to work and earn a living

Philippines Government announces domestic travel restriction but does include measures to facilitate the movement of seafarers

Australian Government is requiring all seafarers leaving their ships in Australian ports to be quarantined for 14 days on arrival and preventing them from leaving Australia until this period has elapsed. This rule applies irrespective of whether a seafarer is showing Coronavirus symptoms. If the seafarer has self-isolated on board since the preceding port call the quarantine period may be reduced by the number of days spent in self-isolation on board


Shipping Minister writes to Secretaries-General of IMO, ILO and WHO stating that the UK is committed to keeping its ports open, facilitating seafarer movement and crew changes, permitting any sick seafarers on ships calling at UK ports access to medical treatment and providing access to shore leave for ships crew. His letter also calls upon these organisations to encourage other states to follow suit


Meeting of European Transport Ministers


European Commission issues a recommendation to Member States – which includes the UK during the transition period – that they take action to ensure the free movement within the EU of all workers involved in international transport in all transport modes, including seafarers. In particular, rules such as travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine of transport workers not displaying symptoms should be waived

Norway had already introduced procedures to enable the movement of seafarers


IMO issues Circular Letter 4204/Add.6 containing a preliminary list of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID19 pandemic. Amongst its recommendations are:

  • Measures to facilitate crew changes in ports, including: designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality, when in their jurisdiction as “key workers” providing an essential service
  • Grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to let them join/leave ships
  • Implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation


Singapore announces partial lifting of the ban on crew changes


European Commission publishes communication entitles “Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships” which is warmly welcomed by the Chamber, other shipowner associations and the trade unions, this will be used to lobby EU Member States

Singapore & Hong Kong announced bans on crew changes – Hong Kong for a initial period of 14 days, Singapore indefinitely

So the position for seafarers remains confused

Shipping is a global industry and needs a unified global response, especially towards crew changes, not a response where one country does one thing, and another country another. The last thing a shipping company needs is to have to hunt around for a port which facilitates crew movement, as this will require the ship to divert and that costs time, and of course, money in terms of bunkers

Seafarers face other dilemma’s as well – are they, for example, covered by the Furlough scheme? Many UK Seafarers are employed by offshore companies who have not set up a PAYE scheme in this jurisdiction.

Access to port facilities is also greatly reduced, so seafarers welfare is also being affected in this crises.

There is then the cost of keeping in touch with families whilst at sea – whilst some communication companies are providing some services for free, many are not.

Seafarers are therefore working in uncertain times – when will they be reunited with their families? Further, many of the support measures introduced by the government here may not apply to those working at sea.

So we should all spare a thought for Seafarers when we next feel the pressure of lockdown. It is far worse for others…

If you have a question about any aspect of the article above, please contact Jon directly on 0207 167 6602 or via email

Jon Sharp has practiced in the City for close to 30 years and has a wealth of experience in the insurance industry and has a number of reported cases that demonstrate his abilities as a leader in the areas of dispute resolution, insurance, marine, aviation, general commercial matters and social media. Jonathan regularly presents seminars and lectures to the public insurers, banks and other lawyers, on a range of topics, including social media

He has also conducted a number of Arbitrations, before both the LMAA and ICC and dealt with boundary disputes, defended planning applications, and property transfers after matrimonial issues

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Marine Construction & Construction Logistics


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