Webinar: Standard Club Seafarer Wellbeing Series: A discussion with Stella Maris and Capt. Artur Olbromski - What is the new normal?
Online, 30 September 2020
The third webinar in the Standard Club seafarer wellbeing series was hosted by Captain Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention and James Bean, Managing Director at Standard Club, alongside Ian Stokes, Head of Corporate Engagement at Stella Maris, Deacon Peter Barrigan, Port Chaplain for Port of Tees, Hartlepool and Seaham, and Capt. Artur Olbromski, very experienced LPG Master. The discussion focused on various elements of seafarer wellbeing, sharing how Stella Maris is supporting seafarers and their families, and what life is like during the current Covid-19 world health pandemic from a seafarer’s perspective.
The live webinar covered the following topics:
- The work of Stella Maris in supporting seafarers
- Current situation of crew change
- The importance of mental wellbeing
- What life is like during the current Covid-19 world health pandemic from a seafarer’s perspective
- Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention, Standard Club
- James Bean, Managing Director, Standard Club UK
- Deacon Peter Barrigan, Port Chaplain for Port of Tees, Hartlepool and Seaham, Stella Maris
- Ian Stokes, Head of Corporate Engagement and Partnerships, Stella Maris
- Capt. Artur Olbromski, LPG Master
Watch here. Recorded on Friday 11 September, 2020 at 09:30 BST.
Q: I think that it is not only the local restrictions which make conducting crew changes difficult, we should also acknowledge the charterers role. Up until now they are not cooperating under new worldwide status.
A: You are very correct that charterers are an important link in the whole chain of parties required to make a crew change successful. They will need to understand that crew changes are a necessity, certainly in the current pandemic and that if they do not allow ship owners/managers to do the necessary, some Port States may detain the ship till the crew has been changed, which could be much more expensive and disruptive.
Q: How can politicians be persuaded to ensure their governments are approving and allowing crew changes without VISAs taken from embassies – often it is only VISA on arrival. The UK for example is not allowing PRC crew to transit without a VISA.
A: The IMO and the International Chamber of Shipping can unfortunately only make advisory statements. It remains up to the local government to put these guidance lines into local law and assist with making crew changes possible. This would include facilitating obtaining visas for seafarers. It is important that the local Shipping Association also puts pressure on the government to make the necessary changes.
Q: I watch your seminar from Greece. My observation in recent months is that a lot of countries all over the world mention that crew changes in their ports is feasible, but when we speak with port authorities and our port agent we find that this is not the case and in fact impossible due to their procedures and requirements.
A: That is unfortunately true in several ports. It is difficult (but not impossible) to comply with the myriad of local requirements. It is very important to discuss the requirements early on with your local agent and the authorities to ensure that everything can be organised timely.
Q: For Deacon Peter Barrigan - have you found it challenging to do ship visits during this time, due to the regulations of a company or port or some other cause?
A (Deacon Peter Barrigan comment): Things have changed. We used to be invited onboard into the mess room to enjoy a coffee and chat with many of the crew. Now, most visits take place at the quayside. Some of the seafarers will come down the gangway to greet me, so there are still opportunities to meet some seafarers. I carry gifts for the guys (donated freely by the local communities) so they can still receive these, such as warm clothes, toiletries, chocolates, religious items and phone top ups, so we can still be of help to the crews, often just listening to them and helping were we can.
Q: Companies and owners should work together and even if the crew changes costs 120k. We were able to makes changes to get crew home and on board. Why are the governments not helping?
A: In many circumstances the governments are actively involved and are discussing this with the shipping industry. As mentioned during the webinar, there are a lot of factors that need to come together and align in order to make a crew change successful. If only one of these links does not agree, the whole chain will unravel. It is not always because of the government that a crew change is not possible. For instance, charterers were mentioned, but similarly airlines play a vital role, or embassies, or custom, or security etc.
Q: Going forward, as a part of learning from the current crisis, does a possibility to denote a permanent status of seafarers as 'key-workers' exist? Can the same be included in a Convention as strong as MLC as an amendment? Does the panel believe it can help avoid some of the possible issues which have arisen in the current pandemic?
A: I would agree that designating seafarers as keyworkers will assist in reducing the issues with crew changes during this period of restricted travel. As mentioned by Capt Artur during the webinar, it would be good as well if governments would allow seafarers to travel on their seamansbook without the need for specific visas in their passport.
Q: If we can spread the importance of seafarers to general population, it will create a pressure on government by their people to help us.
A: (Yves Vandenborn comment): I agree with you that the importance of the work seafarers carry out is not fully understood by the population in general and certainly not by governments. Awareness has been raised on this issue by many individuals and organisations, but this work should continue until governments make the necessary changes to allow more crew changes.
(Deacon Peter Barrigan comment): It is up to each and every one of us to tell people about the importance of seafarers. Most people do not understand that goods are only available because seafarers sail. Do not leave it to others to spread the word.
Q: What about the Mental Health of the Crew? How can we ensure that they are in good Mental Health? How can you assist them?
A: A very good question and it is really important for ship managers to ensure the good mental and physical wellbeing of their crew, not only during these difficult times, but at all times. Standard Club has issued several articles and publications on this topic and I would encourage everyone to take a look at our dedicated wellbeing webpage. I would highlight in particular our Standard Safety Wellbeing Special Edition which provides information, tips and advice on how to care for wellbeing, and share the seafarer wellbeing posters that we designed which also provide simple and clear advice to seafarers.
Q: What is the percentage of suicide cases among seafarers due to COVID-19 restrictions?
A: We do not have exact numbers of suicides as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also not easy to gather these statistics as sometimes a seafarer is considered 'missing at sea', and it is difficult to confirm if it was a suicide case or not. But since the pandemic started we have learned of a handful of suicides at sea whereby we suspect the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the contributory reasons.
Q: Our small gas carriers spend less than 24 hours in port, we have major logistical issues to arrange crew changes. We must divert vessels, take the vessel off-hire, just to arrange crew changes. Charterers are not flexible and even threaten to "sue" if vessel does not maintain schedules
A: We can understand your frustration. It is important that all parties involved with the running of the ship understand the importance of being able to carry out crew changes in the current pandemic. That includes your charterers. It is not easy for your commercial department to negotiate these terms in the current charterer-friendly economy. See also the earlier question on getting charterers involved.
Q: All countries must agree with a VISA free system for joining and signing off a vessel. We should have a unified seaman document which should a free access to all, and unified SOP in place internationally in disasters scenarios. This would remove the need for visa and red tapes. If a VISA free system starts, crew can be changed easily.
A: As mentioned in other comments and by Capt Artur during the webinar, it would be good if governments allow seafarers to travel on their seamansbook without the need for specific visas in their passport.
Q: Thanks so much for organizing the discussion, I found it very interesting.
A: You are most welcome and we are glad that you found it useful. Do browse Stella Maris and our website for further useful information or contact us for any further queries.