Crew Changes & COVID-19 in Norway
Measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have brought widespread disruption to normal crew change operations, with many seafarers prevented from disembarking or joining their vessels.
GAC Norway’s General Manager Mikael Rodseth presents his team’s guide to the current status of crew changes in the country including: where they may be conducted; what restrictions are in place; what requirements must be met; and how many changes GAC Norway has handled to date.
What challenges and restrictions do shipowners/operators face when arranging crew changes in Norway, and how have your local contacts helped to ease the situation?
It has been business as usual since regulations that seafarers are exempt from quarantine came into effect, however, crew change operations are more complicated now and require more coordination than before lockdowns.
The main challenges have been due to restricted flight availability and sudden cancellations and visa expiration for non-EU crew. Local police have been very helpful. For Filipino crew, we have a contact at ATPI who tries to set up direct charter flights from Norway to Manila once a month, depending on sales and requests.
With the local “hotline” to immigration, it has been a smooth operation when meeting travel restrictions and flight ticket availability challenges. Suppliers have also met and/or exceeded our guidelines regarding services, which has made the crew transfers go as smoothly as possible.
It has been challenging at times as rules and regulations are interpreted differently at various locations by the authorities. Restricted flights and cancellations at short notice leaving crew stranded at airports have caused problems but GAC has worked to help facilitate safe Filipino crew repatriation. Great working relationships and communications with immigration authorities has ensured smooth transfers and excellent customer feedback.
We are now also working with some local hospitals to arrange COVID-19 testing.
How many crew change operations have you successfully executed since COVID-19 lockdowns started?
All Norwegian tanker ports are open for crew changes, except one (Shell Nyhamna). So far, we have arranged about 30 tanker vessel crew changes (and counting) and we are now seeing several on a daily basis nationwide.
GAC Bømlo has assisted approximately 250 seafarers of many different nationalities.
At Hammerfest, approximately 30 crew changes have been completed to date.
25-30 crew changes have been conducted at Kristiansund, including 100 offshore people.
Are there any specific crew change examples you wish to highlight?
Shipping companies have come to us for assistance with crew change of Filipino crew in other countries for example in Emden, Germany. Our local knowledge and relationships with the authorities have been highly appreciated.
When clients have off-signers stranded in Norway due to flight cancellations, we have coordinated with ATPI to put them on charter flights directly to Manila. Flight tickets are a bit expensive, but still much cheaper than having crew in hotels for many days or even weeks. Many hotels have their own quarantine rooms where light food and snacks are served as room service. The catering/restaurants at hotels are not of that high a standard as normal, due to health restrictions, etc.
We had one crew transfer where we used a high-speed RIB to complete the entire process at sea due to a tight time frame. As there were hardly any flights at that time, this was the only option which avoided an overnight stay, saved money and reduced travel and exposure time for the crew. Despite uncertainty about possible flight delays and possible bad weather, everything came together, much to the satisfaction of the crew, who had been on the vessel overtime for weeks or even months.
We are keeping up to date with official travel advice and regulations from the government as changes can happen from day to day. Expectations are that regulations will change depending on infection rates. We monitor official travel advice and are in close dialogue with local immigration authorities. We expect challenging months ahead with increased lay-up activity.
There is great uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic; how long it will last, and what its impact will be. How are you managing this from a crew change and lay-ups perspective? What are your expectations for the coming months?
Nobody knows. There are more openings with flights but everything could be closed at short notice. There will be more lay-ups, but also some small movements, which is hopefully a light in the tunnel.
For tanker vessels, crew changes will be more or less normalised in the near future. We are in close contact with the immigration authorities, and they understand the situation. The main issue is getting flights to, for instance, the Philippines or Russia. But hopefully the authorities in those countries will allow more inbound flights soon.
We anticipate crew change opportunities with charter flights are set up on regular basis for Filipino crew.