The whole world is still recovering from Covid-19 and businesses are yet to pick up. It hasn’t just affected businesses; it has certainly affected the maritime industry too. A lot of companies are introducing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Yes, the virus has brought widespread disruption to normal crew change operations. Many sea-farers are prevented from disembarking or joining their vessels.
Recently, GAC Malaysia’s Pradeep Kumar and Chew Yeow showcase their guide to the current status of crew change within Malaysia. This includes where they are conducted, restrictions in place, and what requirements need to be met.
Challenges and Restrictions Faced by Shipowners/Operators when arranging crew changes in Malaysia.
Most crew changes halt operations for 3 months at least during the MCO period (from March to May 2020). The Malaysian government only allow crew changes for Malaysian nationals during May. However, crew changes for foreign nationals are permitted from 26th June onwards – but with strict norms to follow.
Even when crew changes for foreign nationals are allowed by then, there are many confusions surrounding it. Like how the alignment between multiple authorities (largely immigration, marine department, port authorities) are not solidly in place yet. Therefore, it has caused a lot of confusion about the procedures.
It’s not to say that Malaysia does not have a maritime Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place for crew changes. They do, and it usually includes 3 main authorities: Port Health, Marine Department, Immigration Departments. Maritime and shipping companies will have to satisfy the requirements from all 3 to allow crews to be signed-on or signed off. It takes time.
SWAB Tests Are Especially Imperative
Having mentioned the immigration complications, the SWAB tests are also another challenge especially for foreign nationals. Foreign nationals will want to repatriate after hearing of the Covid-19 outbreak. In order to do so, they will have to do sign-off as work permit formalities.
The Covid-19 test result is a mandatory requirement to sign-off any personnel or vessel’s port stay. The port stay is only 1 day, whereas the SWAB test results are only available after 2-3 days.
Even after submitting the test results, the Port Health authorities do not immediately allow the crew to go to their hotels. Not until obtaining confirmation from the hotel guaranteeing the sign-off crew will remain in quarantine. That and the fact that the crew will not be allowed to roam outside their assigned rooms.
Flying Home For Foreign Nationals
Last but not least, going home to their home countries are on the top of the list for many foreign nationals. Port Health may have agreed with the quarantine condition and domestic flights will be allowed within Malaysia for foreign nationals.
Not letting foreign nationals fly home can be a bit of a problem as Malaysia does not allow internal flights. For now, a lot of foreign nationals can only fly home by transiting via Doha, Qatar. The Malaysian Immigration authorities are convinced to accept this transit in light of the limited number of international flight options available.
Crew Changes and Lay-Up Impact: How It Is Handled
Now that the MCO has been partially lifted, crew changes and lay-up are slightly easier to handle. Crew change activities are slowly becoming possible between Malaysia and other “green zone” countries. However, they will have to establish a travel bubble.
Although the current RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) is in place until 21st August, more sectors are set to open up soon.
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