Cyprus shipping struggles to survive crew-change crisis

Since the coronavirus crisis began, as many as 1 in 6 of the 1 million crew on 60,000 cargo ships at sea have been marooned. Large numbers have been stuck on ships, long after their contracts have run out. Others are stuck at home.

“It’s terrible. There have even been suicides on ships (not on ours), and the effect on Cyprus shipowners has been devastating,” says Dieter Rohdenburg, CEO of the Limassol-based Intership Navigation Company in an interview with the Cyprus Mail.

Rohdenburg explains how his company is trying to survive.

“When it started in March, It was hopeless. Airports were shut down. There were no flights. Many were sent to quarantine. And today, many of our seafarers are still stuck at home, unable to travel, and our company is suffering,” comments on the devastating effects the crew-change crisis has had on his business.

“When, at the start of the coronavirus crisis, they determined who were essential workers, they chose transport workers, railroad workers, but seafarers were never really considered, because nobody sees them, nobody thought about them,” Rohdenburg points out. “Yet 90 per cent of cargo traffic goes via the sea.”

Rohdenburg’s company has 85 ships that they fully manage and a total of 150 ships that they manage crew changes on, with about 3,000 seafarers on board at any time. The ships are ‘tramping,’ meaning that they carry cargo all over the world, not on specific lines.

“Normally we plan for crew changes. European seafarers in general work contracts that run from two to six months, with four months being the most common term. Seafarers from India or the Philippines have contracts running eight months.”

“Instead there are some that have been on board for 13 months. Others are stuck at transit points, or at home, as they cannot get visas, both earning no income at all because they can’t get back on board. India is completely locked down; we cannot do anything there.”

“We still have about 800 that are overdue and 500 that we’ve managed to change, so another 300 to go,” he adds. “But we’ve had to divert two ships to the Philippines, and each diversion costs $20,000, just to give you an idea of what this is costing. But not getting the crew off is just unthinkable.”

Many crew changes, up to 100,000 seafarers, normally go through Manila on a normal day for crew changes. “Today, there are barely 400 a day that can get through,” Rohdenburg notes.”

There are terrible repercussions, Rohdenburg says, when seafarer families learn via social media that some crews have been able to get off their ships. Then they rage at the owner of the ships where their relatives are stuck, demanding to know why that owner cannot get the off.

“The truth is that everyone is trying to get crews changed. Governments are supposed to act, to help. But so far, there ‘s not been enough action, and there’s nothing we can do.”
Source: Cyprus Mail

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