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Delay crew change at Chennai Port due to Covid rules

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Shri Vaibhavi Logistics

CHENNAI: Stringent Covid-19 protocols that include mandatory RTPCR negative test results have led to long delays in new crew change on vessels at Chennai Port.
While shipping industry representatives insist RTPCR and quarantine procedures were needed only when a person tests positive or shows symptoms, Chennai Port Trust (CPT) officials told TOI that they were merely following the standard operating procedure (SOP) laid down by the Union shipping ministry.
Ships change their crew periodically – officers serve for four to six months and sailors nine to 10 months — before they are replaced with a fresh set of crew. This crew change exercise is getting stuck due to rising Covid-19 cases and the subsequent restrictions in different states in India.
Crew change hubs are Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. A majority of the engineers come from Chennai while sailors come from Delhi. They are not able to board ships because of the tests and restrictions and need for quarantine if tested positive. So, ships are forced to extend the work duration of their crew. Officers are forced to work for nine to 10 months while the number of months gets further increased for sailors.
Sanjay Prashar, Managing Director, VM Maritime said: “We are facing a peculiar situation. Around 22% of seafarers joining in the last one week have tested positive, badly impacting crew change and ship takeover by Indian seafarers. In the next four weeks, RTPCR at joining port will result in disruptions. As a result, seafarers who work on ships have to continue beyond their contract.”
A senior officer from the Chennai Port Trust (CPT) said the port management was strictly enforcing the standard operating procedure round the clock. Under this protocol seafarers will have to follow certain procedures from the time they start from their homes till they reach the port. Once aboard the ship, they have to strictly follow yet another set of rules laid down by the ministry, he said. There are pre-arrival checks and post-arrival checks, followed by a combing of shipping crew. For example, when a seafarer lands at a hotel, to reach his room on the first or second floor, the sailor is advised to use the staircase instead of an elevator.
“Even customs and immigration authorities were asked not to take the crew members to their rooms for checks. We have asked them to do everything online. If one crew is affected it will have a serious impact on the entire crew travelling on board the vessels,” the official said.
Community development officer of Sailors Society Manoj Joy said seafarers are already physically stressed out due to restrictions on their flight travel. Further delays and tests are an added hassle to them, he said.

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