Virus Causing Big Mess in Ocean Freight Crews, with Some Sailors Stuck on Ships, Others at Home Unable to get to Work


The emerging crisis in ocean shipping relative to crews to man the ships is rising to even more severe levels, jeopardizing the ability of container and bulk ships to move freight.

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The problem is also starting to impact the ability of cargo carriers to move the freight.

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As the problem escalates, with tens of thousands of seamen stuck on ships long after they were scheduled to leave after months at sea because replacement crews can’t get there to relieve then, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said last week that the inability to rotate crews has emerged as the biggest challenge facing maritime operators.

The IMO called on governments to recognize seafarers as essential workers for global supply chains and exempt them from travel barriers.

It’s clear something has to be done. Estimates are that there are about 150,000 seaman who must fly all over the world each month to connect with ships and relieve workers that have been at sea for months.

But right now, this human supply chain has many kinks.

It turns out the changeover of ship crews is a complex exercise, with workers from around the world meeting the ships that will be there homes for many months often far from where they live. The most popular ports for such crew changes include Singapore, Fujairah in the Middle East, and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

An exercise in logistics in the best of times, the process has been thrown into chaos with the virus crisis. The Wall Street Journal reports that various country travel restriction made travel nearly impossible for many crewmen. That in turn has stranded thousands of sailors at sea at the same time their replacement crews are stuck on land unable to get to their next job on a ship.

Graham Westgarth, CEO of U.K.-based V Group, one of the world’s biggest crew management companies, says about 11,000 of its total 44,000 crewmen who are due for relief after working up to three months beyond their contracts. At the same time, an equal number can’t travel to replace them and they are now out of work


There is first a human toll on both workers stuck for extra months at sea and those at home that can’t get to their jobs. Other seamen have left their ships but are stuck in port cities around the world unable to get home.

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But the problem is also starting to impact the ability of cargo carriers to move the freight.

“It’s getting to a point where it’s affecting ship operations,” said John Hadjipateras, chief executive of Stamford, Conn.-based Dorian LPG Ltd., which operates a fleet of 22 liquefied petroleum carriers, to

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