US Coast Guard recognizes crew change crisis

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ICS Crew Change Graphic
Source: International Chamber of Shipping via Creative Commons.
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Despite the United States having previously adopted the IMOs mission to alleviate the ongoing crew change crisis, the country’s Coast Guard is one of the first major maritime agencies to issue actual guidance.

By Michael McGrady, Maritime Direct Americas & Pacific Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The United States Coast Guard issued its recurring Marine Safety Information Bulletin for the month. In it, the lead maritime law enforcement agency in the federal government outlined the Biden administration’s initial efforts to work on resolving the ongoing global crew change crisis brought on by the relentless spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

Marine Safety Information Bulletin 04-21 was officially issued on March 17, 2021. It clearly states that the Coast Guard is one of several federal agencies that authorize crew change operations and that the United States is one of 53 member-states to sign on to International Maritime Organization (IMO) Circular Letter No. 4204/Add.35/Rev.4. According to the bulletin, the IMO circular letter commits the United States government to facilitate crew changes and achieve key worker designation for seafarers.

“Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers,” reads the bulletin. “The physical and mental fatigue of seafarers who are unable to leave the vessel at the end of their contracts has led to growing humanitarian concerns as well as concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping.”

The Coast Guard additionally offers guidance for mariners based in the United States and abroad.

“US mariners who are attempting to conduct a crew change abroad should first consult the host nation’s COVID-19 guidelines for travel to determine what intermediary steps are required in order to depart from or arrive to the country,” the bulletin recommends.

This means that US mariners caught up in a crew change dispute or is prohibited from making a crew change needs to coordinate with the local authorities, request support from the Coast Guard’s crew change task force, and seek assistance from the nearest Department of State mission, consulate or embassy, based in the host nation where the crew change dispute is taking place.

International mariners currently in the United States, the Coast Guard recommends, should contact their local diplomat based in the country, the International Maritime Organization, and other authorities.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, the global crew change crisis impacts nearly 2 million (maybe more) seafarers who are stranded on vessels awaiting berthing outside of a port of call or for onshore replacements dependent on the income from contracts.

Maritime Direct reported a few weeks ago that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognized the public health and economic security concerns brought to the limelight by the crew change crisis. However, when asked if the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, or even the Biden White House had an official answer to some of our questions, they declined to speak.

For additional reference, the US government signed on to the IMO commitment to facilitate crew change operations on January 25. This is days after former President Donald Trump left office and ceded power to incoming President Joe Biden.

Trump’s aggressive immigration policies complicated early relief efforts for the crew change crisis. However, Biden’s COVID-19 agenda mandated the immediate change in priorities for the federal government to quickly and efficiently recover from the pandemic.

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