The huge wave of Covid-19 infections in India has hit the international shipping industry, which depends on the country for sailors, as crews fall with the disease and ports deny entry to ships.
Ports like Singapore and Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates have banned vessels from changing crew that have recently traveled from India, according to notifications from maritime authorities. Zhoushan in China has banned entry to any ship or crew that has been to India or Bangladesh in the past three months, according to Wilhelmsen Ship Management, a major supplier of marine crews.
Industry executives also said the crews coming from India were positive test for Covid-19 on ships, despite quarantine and negative tests before boarding.
“Previously, we had ships infected with one or two people,” said Rajesh Unni, managing director of Singapore-based Synergy Marine Group, which supplies the ships’ crew. “Today we have a scenario where whole ships are infected very quickly. . . which means that the ships themselves are immobilized. “
India reported more than 380,000 Covid-19 infections and nearly 3,800 deaths on Wednesday. An increase in the number of cases has broken world records and overwhelmed health systems.
The South African port authority said a ship that arrived in Durban from India this week was quarantined after 14 Filipino crew members tested positive for Covid-19. The ship’s chief engineer died of a heart attack.
Along with the Philippines and China, India is one of the largest sources of sea crew. About 240,000 out of 1.6 million seafarers worldwide are from the country, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, an industry body.
Singapore, a major shipping hub, has expanded its ban to cover crews from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Executives warned that the restrictions could send shock waves through the shipping industry, which carries 80 percent of global trade, according to UN data.
March Blockade of the Suez Canal “Will be nothing compared to [supply chain] disruption due to inability to change crews, ”said Mark O’Neil, president of InterManager, which represents the crew management industry.
Last summer, around 400,000 sailors were stranded at sea beyond the duration of their contract due to the pandemic. Although that number has declined, fears are growing due to the global surge in coronavirus cases since March.
“If travel restrictions continue as they are, we could again be in a situation similar to the global crew change crisis we experienced in 2020,” said Niels Bruus, head of marine human resources at Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company.
“The situation has turned from bad to worse with regard to crew changes. And that’s an understatement, ”said Carl Schou, managing director of Wilhelmsen, which buys 15 percent of its roughly 10,000 workers in India.
The Norwegian company halted crew changes in India from April 24 until at least the end of May. Schou added that the Covid-19 test results for Indian sailors were not arriving in time for their scheduled departures because “the entire health system has basically collapsed in India.”
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a German crew management group, said it was temporarily recruiting seafarers from other countries to replace Indians disembarking or having to board ships.
Shipping officials said seafarers had to be prioritized in the global roll-out of immunization as countries introduce immunization requirements to enter. But they were frustrated by the slow pace of efforts to secure the jabs through the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body responsible for transport.
“We are just tearing our hair out with the bureaucracy and political ping-pong dealing with this immunization issue,” O’Neil said.
Abdulgani Serang, secretary general of the Indian National Seafarers Union, said he felt the authorities had not done enough to vaccinate Indian seafarers: “We failed them.
Additional reporting by Jyotsna Singh in New Delhi