SINGAPORE - The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has approved almost 3,000 cases of crew change in Singapore since March 27, with three chartered flights set to help more seafarers leave their ships to go home this week.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan disclosed the figures in a Facebook post on Tuesday (June 9), in response to a Financial Times report about seafarers left stranded at sea or at home due to Covid-19 restrictions worldwide.
"Many crew have worked several months beyond their contracts, due to recent travel restrictions which bar crew from disembarking to return home," said Mr Khaw.
"This has led to the international shipping industry threatening to cease sailing unless replacement crew can be brought in."
Mr Khaw said this issue could potentially disrupt or clog up the global supply chain, given that commercial vessels carry 80 per cent of the world trade.
To help prevent this, Singapore has been working with shipping partners, seafarer unions and shipping companies to facilitate crew change in a safe manner, he added.
This is done through "safe corridors" stated in the MPA's Port Marine Circular and a crew change guidebook.
Under a circular released on March 27, MPA allowed for some crew change even though short-term visitors are not allowed to enter Singapore.
Those allowed to leave their ship comprise those who have served their maximum time on board and are unable to get further extension of employment, those who have compassionate grounds, and those who are no longer medically fit to work on board a ship.
It then broadened the criteria to allow crew members in four other categories, such as those whose employment contract has expired, to disembark here from May 22. Approval is subject to the crew members taking precautionary measures stated by MPA.
Crew who get approval to leave or board the ship in Singapore are transferred directly between the ship and the point of arrival or departure in Singapore.
Mr Khaw said on Tuesday that Singapore has gone further in facilitating crew change by allowing it to be done via chartered flights.
The first such flight took place at Changi Airport last Saturday, in accordance with the protocol set out by the International Chamber of Shipping.
"We are happy to help crew members heading home after being out at sea for a long period of time," said Mr Khaw.
"They deserve that long-overdue reunion with their loved ones."
In response to queries on the move to continue allowing crew change, MPA said it was always its policy to facilitate crew change from ships irrespective of the nationality of the crew and the flag of the ship.
Its spokesman said: "We understand that there are exceptional circumstances where crew will need to disembark or embark the ship.
"This is why MPA continued to allow crew change under special circumstances even though short-term visitors are not allowed to enter or transit through Singapore."