Press Article: Crew issues during the Covid-19 pandemic
01 October 2020
Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, and Richard Stevens, Divisional Claims Director, International division at Standard Club, are interviewed by Maritime China Magazine, discussing the crew issues during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What are some of the challenges faced by The Standard Club as a result of the covid-19 pandemic? What are some of the impact or changes it have on the industry?
COVID-19 has forced many parts of the world to enforce a lockdown in a bid to reduce transmissions. In these trying times, the majority of public services have come to a standstill, yet ships must continue sailing to keep the world supplied with essentials such as food, medical supplies, and goods. As such members and their employees continue to rely on The Standard Club for their services.
The club, like the rest of the industry, has been forced to adjust working schedules, practices and business operations in order to continue to provide the upmost standard of service that members require. In many instances this has resulted in the club’s employees working from home or otherwise remotely and the club putting into practice its business continuity plan. Global travel restrictions and local terminal restrictions have complicated the club’s work when trying to arrange assistance to member’s ships.
This pandemic has cast a multitude of challenges unto seafarers. Those sailing are facing prolonged contracts on board, mental stress from sailing to various ports where there is a high risk of contracting the virus, and isolation on board. The global travel restrictions and lack of commercial flights have impacted crew changes and totally stopped shore leave. Unable to disembark and anxious on board for extended periods of time, many seafarers become more susceptible to psychological illnesses such as depression. Worries about their loved ones at home and /or themselves contracting covid-19 at ports, coupled with a lack of proper rest may also result in fatigue and this compromises the operational effectiveness of the vessel, potentially bringing about disastrous consequences.
Other seafarers are in lockdown at their homes and unable to work, threatening the family’s financial income if they are the sole income earner, which is often the case. The club is therefore constantly working with members to ensure minimal disruption to their operations, support for their crew and employees and rapid response to the issues they are facing around the world.
In light of the pandemic, what safety measures does The Standard Club recommend for seafarers? How do the Clubs cooperate with other parties to protect the rights and interests of crew members?
It is important that members and crew fully understand the risks of the Covid-19, and how these should be mitigated. In this respect the club provides guidelines and recommendations on how to prevent the disease being contracted and/or spread, and measures to take if it is contracted. We appeal to all seafarers to abide by the safety precautions stated by the World Health Organisation, the International Chamber of Shipping and other industry bodies. It is extremely important for seafarers to follow trustworthy news sources and not fall prey to fake news online as that will affect their mental wellbeing.
The club works together with seafarer charities such as Mission to Seafarers and ISWAN to promote mental and physical wellbeing. Practical guidance on the topic is available on the club’s website and in its recent webinars.
The club recommends its members to investigate ways of alleviating seafarers’ woes, for example by means of advancing salaries to seafarers who are unable to sign-on, so their families will not fall into financial hardship. Or by expanding internet allowance on board ships to allow seafarers to have closer contact with their families at home.
The club maintains close relationships with its network of correspondents that can provide members and their employees with immediate, practical and ongoing support in all major hubs and ports around the world. Together, the club and its correspondents assist the members and their employees through their knowledge of, and relationships with, ports and terminals, port authorities, medical facilities, lawyers and other service providers to ensure that the rights and interests of members and their crew are not just preserved but are prioritised and of paramount importance.
After the crew members are sent back to their home countries for treatment due to illness, they need to be isolated for a period of time. Can the expenses during this isolation period be included in the compensation scope of the P&I Clubs?
The following answers are given in respect of The Standard Club and may not reflect the position of other P&I Clubs:
Yes, providing the expenses are a result of the illness and fall within the club’s usual caveats that the expenses for which the member is responsible arose by reason of the member’s interest in, and in connection with the operation of, a covered ship.
If a crew member need to be deported due to illness but is unable to travel out of the country, he/she is transiting in due to current pandemic situation, how will P&I Clubs provide support to the crew member? Will the Clubs cover the treatment costs and other expenses?
Providing the illness arose and was contracted during the crew member’s period of employment the member would be required to pay the crew member’s costs of accommodation, provisions and treatment. These costs would be covered by the club.
It is important for the ship owner/manager to ensure the seafarer is properly cared for during this extended period, including adequate access to internet for communication with the family. The seafarer will need all his/her strength to fight the illness and one less stress to worry about will improve his/her mental wellbeing.
If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 on board, what kind of help can the P&I Clubs provide to the crew?
If there is an outbreak on board, and as a result crew require COVID-19 testing, repatriation and medical attention, the club can arrange this through local correspondents, as well as disinfection services required for the ship. These expenses incurred by the member are covered by the club. In addition, the club offers advice and support to members and their crews in relation to their physical and mental wellbeing.
Ship owners/managers can arrange for one of the seafarer charities like Mission to Seafarers, ISWAN or Sailor’s Society to have a (virtual) meeting with the crew on board. This will allow the crew to have a private and confidential chat, often resulting in reduced mental stress/anxiety. Open communication between the crew and their families at home is extremely important. The club often finds that families at home are not informed regularly or clearly, creating additional anxiety for both the seafarer and the families.