Container ship crew stranded during pandemic
Most of the crew on the Bermuda container ship MV Oleander have reached or gone past the end of their regular three-month contracts, but are unable to travel home or take shore leave because of the coronavirus crisis.
Strict precautions to prevent Covid-19 getting on board the Oleander, as well as problems with transportation of crew and relief crew in and out of the island while international travel is still severely restricted has stranded crew on the cargo ship.
Neptune Group, the owner of Bermuda Container Lines Ltd, which operates the Oleander, is working to find ways to manage a crew change.
But the firm said it had managed to do so for only three crew members so far.
Barry Brewer, the president and chief executive of Neptune Group, said: “We remain focused on the wellbeing of our crew and preventing any Covid-19 virus introduction on to the Oleander.
“Strict virus prevention and safety protocols have been in place since March, minimising any shoreside personal contact unless required by regulation.
“As a result, shore leave for the crew has been unavailable for many weeks now.”
Mr Brewer added: “Like the rest of the global seafaring community, our European and Filipino crew are experiencing repatriation challenges. They are keenly looking forward to getting home to their loved ones and time ashore.”
He said that getting a relief crew for the Oleander to the island was a problem, but that the company was “working all travel angles”.
The Oleander managed to change three of the European crew members through recent flights to Bermuda from Atlanta and Toronto.
The replacements were quarantined in Bermuda for two weeks, then tested twice before they were driven straight to the Oleander to minimise the risk of contact.
Mr Brewer said: “We salute and thank the Bermuda Government port health and protection team and the related services for their professional oversight and application of the quarantine protocols.
“Air travel from the Philippines has only recently begun to open — however, there are no connecting flights to Bermuda as yet.
“Once Bermuda’s borders are open, Oleander crew changeovers will progress in earnest in Bermuda, where safe quarantining, double-testing and onboarding can be safely managed.”
He added that BCL was grateful for the continued efforts by first responders, importers and individuals to support the Oleander, and the crews on other island vessels, while they kept Bermuda’s critical sea transport connections in operation.
Mr Brewer said: “These efforts have been very well received and continue to make a difference to crew morale.”
The news came as the plight of seafarers around the world marooned on their ships during the pandemic and prevented from going ashore or travelling home to rest while a relief crew took over, reached a critical stage.
An international workers’ federation last week said it had stepped in to help “hundreds of thousands” of seafarers to exercise their right to stop work, leave ships and return home.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation and its affiliated seafarers’ unions said governments had failed to designate seafarers as “key workers”, exempt them from Covid-19 travel restrictions and assist repatriation of about 200,000 sailors caught up in “the crew change crisis”.
Steve Cotton, the ITF general secretary, said all that governments had to do was make practical exceptions to coronavirus restrictions and allow seafarers to transit through their territories and return to their families.
He added that a few small changes by national governments would allow sailors to get home and be relieved by a fresh crew.
Bermudian-based Jens Alers, who monitors trends in the shipping world, said seafarers were the backbone of international trade.
Mr Alers, who is group director of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Bermuda), added: “It is only when the world realises what they do for all of us, that they will find recognition and governments will take action”.
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