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Crew Changes Remain Chal­len­ging as Travel
Restrictions Continue

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, one of the most negatively affected areas is the travel industry. Mr. Bharat Shah, the director of SMT’s USA based travel company Travel Meadows, shared with Nautical News the enormous challenges that the pandemic has created for his agency as well as the airline and travel industries in general. Dorota Saltarska of SMT’s Travel Department agrees, noting that many countries have closed their borders, leading to an abundance of flight suspensions and cancellations. Each day, both Mr. Shah and Ms. Saltarska spend hours checking airline schedules and any other news that will affect their business.

The new travel restrictions have limited SMT’s ability to make crew changes, and while a few crew changes have been executed in the last few weeks, these required a great deal of creativity and patience. Planning began weeks ago, as on-signing crew must first quarantine at home for 14 days and undergo a medical check before their contract begins. Once ready to depart, restricted air travel has forced seafarers to employ a patchwork of transportation options.

Ms. Saltarska and her colleagues, for example, were able to move a few seafarers working with the Eureka cement fleet, but only through the combined use of ferries, trains, buses, taxis, and even travel on our own vessels. To assure everyone’s safety, SMT supplies each traveling seafarer with masks and gloves for the duration of the trip and the travel department carefully monitors the modes of transport to check if they are regularly sanitized.

While the situation at present is still very unclear, there are a few positive signs that the situation will not last forever. On 5 May 2020, the United Nations governing body for the maritime industry known as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) released a “recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safety ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus pandemic”. This 60 page document lays out clear recommendations for companies like ours to assure we do our best to keep our seafarers safe in all stages of their journey, including pre-departure procedures, wait time at airports, train depots, and bus terminals, and while traveling.

SMT has already adopted many of these procedures, and standardizing these behaviors across the industry will do much to increase confidence and reduce the stress for both travelers and their close contacts. When asked about his projections for the future, Mr. Shah responded that airlines hope to increase activity in early June, but passengers will need to feel safe before they engage in increased travel.

SMT is most grateful for the efforts of all of its travel personnel and looks forward to the time when we can return to a “new normal”.

Home sweet home! Offsigning crewmembers from MV Aruba Pearl travelled several hundreds km by bus to Madrid Airport to catch the plane to Germany or Belarus and then again several hundreds km by bus to their home countries.