Singapore is set to ban crew changes involving all non-residents with recent travel to India.

The move would appear to be a major setback in attempts to resolve the crew crisis, which has seen around 200,000 seafarers trapped at sea by the pandemic.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has informed the shipping community that crew with recent travel history to India in the last 14 days will not be allowed in the Port of Singapore. The ban goes into effect on Saturday.

This includes sign-on crew travelling to Singapore by flight, as well as sign-off crew from vessels that have called in India.

The ban also applies to sign-on crew transiting India on their connecting flights to Singapore.

MPA said the prohibition of crew change in Singapore is in line with the Ministry of Health’s announcement that all long-term pass holders, and short-term visitors, with recent travel to India in the last 14 days will not be allowed into Singapore, or to transit through, from Saturday.

Singapore has closed the door to travellers from India due to a surge in Covid-19 infections in the country and the emergence of new virus variants.

Singapore’s health minister Lawrence Wong said the measures are a “temporary freeze” on arrivals from India. He said it will take Singapore time to monitor the situation and better understand the “new variants that are there and the risk that they pose to us”, he said.

He said the border closure will have impact on the construction, marine and process sectors.

“With the ban from India and restrictions in Philippines, bans in China, problems in Myanmar, where does one go? These are the big crew supply nations...only Eastern Europe remains open,” said Capt Rohit Banta, group director at Synergy Shipmanagement.

Neptune efforts

The executive noted that signatories of the Neptune Declaration have worked hard to get key worker status for seafarers. He is on the steering committee of the industry effort.

“But if countries are outright banning travel itself, where would that place the seafarers? We certainly are back to the start line despite all the knowledge and the tried and tested safe protocols that we had established,” Banta. added.

“We have already seen the massive negative impact the last year has had on the mental health of the seafarers with reports of so many quitting the industry itself and just when we need them the most.”

On Wednesday, the Singapore government issued a three-day stop work orders on Sembcorp Marine’s Admiralty Yard. The decision was made after a yard supervisor tested positive for Covid-19 as part of so-called rostered routine testing.

The yard supervisor is a permit worker who resides in a dormitory. Further tests conducted on residents in the same dormitory revealed 17 others had recovered from Covid-19 but tested positive again for the virus.

All other yards under Sembcorp Marine remain in operation.