A cargo terminal in Hong Kong.
Several major seaports in Asia have tightened crew change restrictions and stepped up screening of seamen in recent weeks as the coronavirus staged a global resurgence.
The developments came amid renewed concerns about spiking coronavirus cases in parts of the world that were previously thought to have kept the outbreak under control.
Last week in Singapore, 15 Filipino crew members onboard a vessel tested positive for the coronavirus, said the city-state’s Maritime and Port Authority. The vessel was in Singapore for repairs and refuel. The crew members did not disembark.
Chinese ports have ramped screening of crew members on vessels arriving at ports after several cases of coronavirus cases in seafarers, trade journal Platts reported on July 29.
The infections in seafarers have complicated crew changes — a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of exhausted seafarers trapped at sea.
Many are marooned because of border closures and immigration restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic. There are about 1.2 million seafarers globally who are involved in international trade routes.
To prevent cases from spreading to the community, the ports of Singapore and Hong Kong have issued new measures.
On July 24, Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority issued a set of best practices in the light of a resurgence of coronavirus cases. They include isolation periods for onboarding and offboarding crews, as well as virus tests.
Also in July, the Hong Kong government suspended crew changes with no cargo operation after the Chinese special administrative territory recorded a surge in cases. Quarantine exemptions prior to the suspension were blamed for the swell in cases.
Lapses in crew changes
The heightened scrutiny comes amid reports of lapses in protocol for managing crew changes — an issue which the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) called out on July 23.
“With stories emerging yesterday of crew arriving in Singapore with Covid-19 symptoms, it is clear that some seafarers and crew and manning companies are ‘not taking seriously’ the protocol of self-imposed isolation (minimum of 14 days) when being rostered for crew change,” the ICS said in a statement.
The ICS called the reports “alarming” and urged for compliance.
“The irresponsible actions of a small minority could potentially lead to the shutdown of crew change processes at important shipping hubs, impacting the vast majority of seafarers and shipowners who are acting in accordance with the protocols,” said the ICS.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore also reportedly discovered tampered Covid-19 test results, according to trade media. The MPA did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the tampered results.
State news agency Philippine News Agency reported on July 24 that two women were arrested for selling fake Covid-19 test results in the country.
The Southeast Asian country is a coronavirus hotspot, having reported over 160,000 cases of infections. It is also one of the world’s largest sources of seafarers, accounting for a quarter of crew globally, according to industry estimates.