The State of the Crew Change Crisis
Here at V.Group we’ve been working tirelessly with our customers to aid the plight of seafarers that are currently stuck at sea due to restrictions put in place because of COVID-19.
And, with many countries across the world going into a second phase of lockdown measures and the uncertainty continuing, we spoke to two captains who have recently made it home after long stints at sea to get their views on the crisis and what more can be done.
Captain Pavlo Gusyev – Failed Crew changes and last-minute alterations
Captain Pavlo Gusyev has recently returned home after six months at sea, a contract that lasted almost four months longer than intended. His experience was typical of the experience of many seafarers. Having had a number of attempts to be repatriated fail that included travelling to Guinea, India, Singapore and finally Reunion Island where after having a PCR test on the dockside he was finally cleared to go home.
Captain Gusyev remarks: “It was incredibly frustrating for everyone involved as things were changing very quickly and quite often at the last minute. I am one of the lucky ones that actually managed to get signed off. Many of the crew are still on board with no idea of when they will be going home.”
The captain believes that governments need to do more to alleviate the crisis and need to work together more to ensure crews are not being demoralised and demotivated by not being able to go home.
Captain Gusyev goes on to say: “The biggest problem isn’t the extension of contracts; as seafarers we are used to that. The problem is the uncertainty that the crew change will actually ever happen due to fast changing rules. This can greatly impact the mental health of the crew which will eventually lead to accidents and unsafe working. Something that is totally unacceptable on a vessel.”
Captain Maria Janellana – Uncertainty and poor information is impacting mental health
Captain Maria Janellana has also recently been repatriated after a 10-month contract, one that was only meant to last four months. Her vessel was actually in a shipyard in China ready for its special survey when news of the pandemic broke and China went into lockdown meaning she spent more than two months in the shipyard. In January her first officer went home and she was expecting to go home a couple of weeks later, however this was not meant to be and her ship got moved to the Gulf region. She then had another crew change scheduled in Fujairah which once again was cancelled due to lockdown measures.
The captain comments on the situation: “As seafarers we are used to last minute changes of destination and contract extensions but in this case it was the complete uncertainty that really affected people. We live and work by routines and when we do not know what is happening from one day to the next it can be very taxing on the mental health of the crew.”
Capt. Maria believes that one of the biggest problems is the lack of concrete information and access to help for those struggling with the situation.
She goes on to say: “When up to date information isn’t available, it can instil a false hope among the crew. And when things change at the last minute it can really affect morale and negatively impact relationships onboard the vessel.”
Both the Captain and the crew were incredibly grateful for the service provided by V.Group and the vessel owners to help those seafarers struggling with mental health issues saying that they were a lifeline for many onboard. However, in her final comments Captain Maria Janellana believes that governments need to work harder to keep the maritime industry in the loop with clear and concise information to avoid any uncertainty.
The situation continues
To date, V.Group, in collaboration with its customers, has repatriated almost 25,000 seafarers across the globe but understands that the job is not done and that the industry needs to continue to work together to put the welfare of seafarers at the heart of all activity during these challenging times.
Speaking directly to seafarers stranded at sea, many with expired contracts, Graham Westgarth, CEO at V.Group, said:
“This is a subject that really occupies my mind, day and night. Not just my mind but also my team. It is our number one priority and I want you all to understand this.
“We’re working with our customers, we’re working with the legislators, we’re working with the travel industry, we’re working with port authorities and we’re working with the media to try and raise the understanding of the necessity to actually change the regime so that seafarers are treated as keyworkers.
“Unfortunately, I can only say that we haven’t been as successful as we would like to have been. That’s not down to what we’re doing in V.Group but it’s really an industry wide issue.
“But I wanted to assure you that we are doing whatever we can – not just us – we have many customers who are incurring significant expense to try and alleviate the situation.”