For more than a year, major seafarers’ unions, shipping companies and organizations, including the International Maritime Organization, have warned of problems caused in the shipping industry by COVID-related travel restrictions -19 and the non-recognition of seafarers as essential workers. Renewed travel restrictions resulting from new variations in the coronavirus, combined with delays in obtaining vaccines for seafarers, are likely to exacerbate problems as carriers scramble to manage growing demand and increase shipments as global economies recover.
According to crew agency Danica Crewing Services, costs are rising in the crew business and crew shortages are starting to be seen as COVID-19 travel restrictions and vaccination delays increasingly have a impact on the availability of qualified seafarers. Danica warns that continued restrictions and vaccination delays are causing crew shortages and increased wages that are likely to worsen in the coming months.
Noting recent changes in crew member availability, Henrik Jensen, Managing Director of Danica, said the Eastern European crew market is under extreme pressure as companies turn to countries like Ukraine and Russia to replace officers and sailors unable to travel from other parts of the world, including India and the Philippines. Crew change centers reinstated restrictions on the movement of seafarers this spring as India reported a dramatic increase in the number of cases.
As the northern hemisphere heads into the summer vacation period, Danica warns that the situation could become more difficult with shipping companies turning to countries in these regions as replacement sources for sailors unable to travel since. India and other Southeast Asian countries. Danica points out that the summer months in Eastern Europe are considered a low season in terms of crew availability due to family commitments.
“The unfortunate situation in India and travel restrictions in the Philippines have caused many shipping companies to look to Eastern Europe for crews. This has put the job market for seafarers in Eastern Europe under unprecedented pressure with a high surplus of vacancies, ”says Jensen. “On top of that, we have a new dimension created by the desire for vaccination. Many sailors want to be vaccinated before going back to sea.
The availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the time it takes for immunity to develop are key issues impacting the number of individuals available, Danica points out. Sailors are also forced to wait until they have received their second vaccination before returning to sea.
“It’s not surprising, as in freight markets, when there is a shortage, costs go up,” Jansen explains. “We are now seeing shipping companies offering salaries 10-20% higher than average market levels or offering a high membership premium. “
In countries like Russia, where vaccines are generally available, this is good news for seafarers. However, in other countries, such as Ukraine, demand for vaccines exceeds supply, resulting in a longer wait time. As a result, Danica says he finds seafarers, especially those who do not register immediately when their leave begins, are waiting 4-6 weeks to get vaccinated. After they get their first injection, they have to wait another 8-10 weeks for the second, and then another 2-3 weeks for their immunity to be fully effective.
“This means that many seafarers are now off duty for 16 to 20 weeks, which is about double their usual period of leave and exacerbates the global shortage of seafarers,” says Jansen. He urges maritime nations to understand the critical crew need, calling for sailors to be designated as essential workers and receive their vaccinations as soon as possible. It also notes that using the single version of the vaccine for seafarers would also help address the current shortage of people qualified to travel and work on board ships.