Several countries have adopted stricter crew-change restrictions in the first week of 2021, although none have yet gone as far as the Philippines’ ban on seafarers from 21 nations.

The mounting new rules come as the pandemic's impact on crew change has already been a major challenge for the better part of the year.

They follow the emergence in recent weeks of new variants of the virus, particularly in South Africa and the UK, which has entered its third coronavirus-related lockdown.

Countries tightening restrictions include Japan, China, South Korea, France, Singapore, Russia, Indonesia, Reunion and Mauritius, according to alerts from international port and shipping agency GAC.

Seafarers will be restricted from entering the Philippines for the first two weeks of 2021 from countries including the major shipping industry nations of Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the UK and US, it was announced this week.

GAC reports that in the past week most French ports have required seafarers arriving from the UK for crew changes to have a negative coronavirus test result within less than 72 hours.

Japan has refused entry to visitors of any nationality from abroad since 28 December. GAC said the rule does not apply to seafarers signing on or off, but flight cancellations, as in other countries, are likely to make crew movement more difficult and crews who have visited the UK or South Africa in the previous 14 days will not be allowed to enter.

Japan is also expected to shortly end bilateral business travel agreements with 11 mainly Asian countries as part of an extension of its lockdown measures, according to local press. They include China, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia and Singapore, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism currently assessing the possible impact on seafarer travel.

China changes

In China, local health authorities are testing according to different risk assessments for ships which have had crew changes over the past 14 days.

Zhuhai now requires a 14-day quarantine period after a crew change before berthing is allowed and its customs authorities will then go on board to do body temperature tests. Zhanjiang does not require 14 days quarantine, but its customs may still require Covid-19 testing.

Kitack Lim warns against 'no crew change' clauses

The mounting restrictions come just a couple of weeks after International Maritime Organization secretary general Kitack Lim spoke out against “no crew change” clauses in charterparties, pointing out that such clauses undermine the efforts undertaken to solve the crew-change crisis.

The clauses, which are demanded by some charterers, state that no crew changes can occur while their cargo is on board, and so prevent ships deviating to ports where crew changes could take place.

Lim called upon all charterers to refrain from requesting to include “no crew change” clauses and shipowners and operators to reject them if they are demanded.

The clauses "exacerbate the mental and physical fatigue among exhausted seafarers", and "further threaten the safety of navigation”, Lim said.

Photo: Layton Thompson/LISW

By contrast, GAC said Shenzhen is not seeking mandatory testing even if a crew change took place less than 14 days before.

South Korea's rules will change from 15 January for all vessels making crew changes at any country. Valid negative tests will be needed for all seafarers joining ships to avoid issues with the country’s quarantine officers.

And for six countries — Bangladesh, the Philippines, Russia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan — certification will only be valid if it is issued by South Korean government approved facilities within 72 hours before departure, GAC added.

Singapore has from this week banned entry to crew who have sailed to the UK or South Africa in the last 14 days, and those on direct or connecting flights from the two countries.

Russia restrictions

The port of Novorossiysk in Russia has stopped all crew changes or visits except for Russian crew or inspectors and is now requiring ships to provide medical declarations of health, a list of the ports of call in the last 30 days with arrival and departure dates, and body temperatures for all crew at least two days before arriving.

Indonesia has prohibited entry to foreigners and suspended the disembarkation of foreign crew in the Batam area until 14 January. In Surabaya, a five-day quarantine is required for disembarked seafarers while awaiting test results and before flying back to home countries.

Mauritius has advised that any ship planning to call at Port Louis with crew having travelled to or from the UK and South Africa within the last 15 days will not be allowed to enter or transit.

And Reunion is not allowing seafarers from ships that have called in South Africa to go ashore unless they produce a negative result of a Covid-91 test carried out within 72 hours prior to disembarkation.

Adam Corbett contributed to this story