Measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have brought widespread disruption to normal crew change operations, with many seafarers prevented from disembarking or joining their vessels.
GAC Malaysia’s Pradeep Kumar & Chew Yeow present their guide to the current status of crew changes in the country including: where they may be conducted; what restrictions are in place; what requirements must be met; and how many changes GAC Malaysia has handled to date.
What challenges and restrictions do shipowners/operators face when arranging crew changes in Malaysia, and how have your local contacts helped to ease the situation?
Crew change operations were almost at a halt for almost three months in March, April and May 2020. The Government permitted crew changes only for Malaysian nationals during May and from 26 June, foreign nationals crew changes are permitted with strict norms to be followed.
Even though the foreign national crew changes are permitted since 26 June, the alignment between various authorities such as Immigration, Marine Department and Port authorities are not in place, creating confusion about the procedures. As agents, we are taking proactive steps and fine-tuning the procedures with every department in order to provide our principals with reliable, up-to-date advice.
Although Malaysia has a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for crew changes, it involves the three main authorities – the Port Health, Marine Department and Immigration Departments – and satisfying the requirements of all three to enable crew to be sign-off/-on can take time.
How many crew change operations have you successfully executed since COVID-19 lockdowns started?
Two Malaysian nationals and two foreign nationals (all marine crew) signed-off.
16 technical crew signed off at Kemaman.
6 technical crew signed off at Pasir Gudang.
Are there any specific crew change examples you wish to highlight?
We handled the sign-off formalities of two Indian Nationals on 3 July, the first foreign national crew change for any agents in Penang since the enforcement of COVID-19 protocols. The COVID-19 test result is a mandatory requirement for sign-off and the vessel’s port stay was only one day, whilst SWAB test results are usually available after 2-3 days. We arranged for the test to be carried out at the first port (Pasir Gudang, 40 hours’ voyage from Pasir Gudang to Penang) and the results were submitted when the vessel arrived in Penang. Even after submitting the test result, Port Health authorities did not immediately allow the crew to go to their hotel, until we obtained confirmation from the hotel guaranteeing the signing-off crew would remain in quarantine and would not be permitted to roam outside their rooms. Finally, Port Health authorities agreed with the quarantine condition and no domestic flight travel in Malaysia and arrangements were made for the crew’s transportation direct from Penang to Kuala Lumpur International Airport and their repatriation to India via Doha in Qatar.
As per the Malaysian Immigration regulations, all Asian nationals must normally fly direct to their destination country without any transit to other countries. However, we convinced the Immigration authorities to accept the Doha transit in light of the limited number of international flight options available.
There is great uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic; how long it will last, and what its impact will be. How are you managing this from a crew change and lay-ups perspective? What are your expectations for the coming months?
Since Malaysia is in a better position compared to other countries and so far has managed the pandemic well. Most businesses and activities are slowly returning to normal. We expect crew change activities to become possible at Malaysian ports in coming months and government is under discussion with various Green Zone countries to establish a travel bubble. Some of the Malaysian ports like Johor, Linggi and Penang ports are very keen on acting as lay-up venues offering warm lay-up services to clients. The ports of Penang and Linggi can also accommodate cruise vessels for lay-up.
We hope that the coming months will see Malaysia will[EM1] loosen the lockdown further. Currently, the country is on RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) until 31 August, 2020. More sectors are set to open up soon. Meanwhile, GAC Malaysia is promoting lay-up services and working closely with all the port authorities. We also expect the restrictions on crew changes will be eased from the current situation in the coming months.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
We expect Malaysia will be back to a near to normal situation in one month, by early-to-mid August, barring any unforeseen circumstances.