Shortly after the pandemic broke out in full force in early March, several countries refused to allow crew replacements in their ports. There was also a great deal of concern about the risk of infection on board. On 16 March, Wallenius Marine stopped crew changes on their ships.
They have 750 employees from 11 different countries on 21 ships in worldwide traffic, so Wallenius Marine has experienced large problems with crew changeovers during the pandemic. The company’s human resources manager, Dennis Johansson, describes how one country followed another banning crew changes in their ports in the spring. In the few ports where in theory it was still possible to change crews, in practice the restrictions introduced were so strict that the procedure was almost impossible. On top of that, the fear of bringing COVID-19 on board ships was always present. On March 16, Wallenius Marine decided to stop all crew changes for four weeks, a period that was later extended several times.
“It was very difficult to pass on this decision and difficult to receive it too,” says the company’s personnel manager, Dennis Johansson. He said that seafarers can be at sea for three, four or even five months without any real problems, as long as they know about it before they embark and they can talk about it with their family and relatives. “But hearing a decision like that just when you are getting ready to go home is the last thing anybody wants.”
Problems with crew changes have continued, even though Wallenius now (22 October) has a working relief system. Dennis Johansson explains that crewmembers going on board must take a PCR test for COVID-19 before they are able to fly. They must then wait seven or eight days in quarantine before they are allowed on board the ship.
”Our hero in this situation has been Japan,” says Dennis Johansson. “They have been incredibly helpful in trying to make crew changes easier for us.”
PCR tests before departure
The Philippines have had very stringent restrictions throughout the pandemic and at the time of writing they will only accept 2,000 passengers a day at their airports. It affects not only seafarers already on board who want to go home, but also those who cannot sign on to work.
“Those who have been worst affected have been stuck at home without any money, not knowing when they can go to sea and earn a living again. It has been very difficult for them,” says Dennis Johansson.
When it comes to Swedes working on Wallenius’ ships, it is now easier to travel to and from the ships.
“We arrange PCR tests for them in Sweden,” says Dennis Johansson. “We then bring them all together and take rental cars directly to the ship to avoid any flights and the risk of COVID. Those who are being relieved then take the rental cars and drive home.”