SINGAPORE: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on Friday (Aug 28) announced a slew of measures to facilitate crew changes and ensure safe port operations, including having shorter stay-home notices for some seafarers and setting up a dedicated holding and quarantine facility for ship crew.
"This has been a trying time for seafarers," said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung in a release provided by MPA.
"They have been working tirelessly to keep goods flowing around the world. But due to health and safety concerns, many have encountered difficulties to call on ports and undergo crew change, and that has severely affected their well-being. It is therefore very important for all stakeholders to come together to ensure safe port operations and safe crew changes," he added.
SHORTER STAY-HOME NOTICES FOR SOME SIGNING-ON CREW
In general, all signing-on crew are required to serve a 14-day stay-home notice in their originating country or region before they arrive in Singapore.
However, in line with the risk-managed approach taken by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force for travellers arriving in Singapore, seafarers from specific low-risk countries or regions will either no longer be required to serve their stay-home notice or serve a shorter notice of seven days before they depart for Singapore.
Mr Kam Soon Huat, president of the Singapore Organisation of Seamen, said: "SOS is heartened that MPA has taken the move forward to ensure safe and timely repatriation of seafarers and getting fresh crew onboard.
"The streamlined crew change procedures and dedicated facility for sign-on crews are practical solutions to keep the supply chain open and to protect the rights of seafarers."
READ: Singapore to waive stay-home notice for New Zealand and Brunei travellers, will test them for COVID-19 on arrival
In addition to the stay-home notice requirement, if a crew member was previously diagnosed with COVID-19, the date of the first polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test must be more than 21 days from the date of departure from his home country to Singapore.
The crew member must also have a negative COVID-19 test, taken not more than 48 hours prior to departing for Singapore, and be certified fit-to-travel by a doctor at his originating country not more than 24 hours prior to the flight.
Finally, crew members can only arrive in Singapore to join their ship no more than two days before the vessel is set to leave Singapore, said MPA.
SIGNING-OFF CREW TO REMAIN ON VESSEL FOR 2 WEEKS BEFORE DISEMBARKING
For seafarers signing-off, they must not have gone ashore in the last 14 days before disembarking the vessel. Before disembarking the ship, the crew should also be certified fit-to-travel by a doctor in Singapore not more than 24 hours prior to disembarking.
"For crew changes to take place safely, MPA continues to expect all owners, agents, ships and individuals to ensure that the COVID-19 preventive measures are followed strictly.
"Any breach will be taken seriously," said MPA.
Ship owners, managers or agents must apply for crew change in Singapore by filling up an online form on the MPA website.
For foreign-flagged ships, crew changes will be considered if the ship meets all prevailing requirements, and are in Singapore for cargo operations, bunkering or other marine services, MPA added.
NEW HOLDING AND QUARANTINE FACILITIES AT TANJONG PAGAR TERMINAL
MPA also said on Friday that as of Sep 1, a self-contained crew facilitation centre (CFC) will be set up at Tanjong Pagar Terminal to facilitate more crew changes in a sustainable manner and with minimal health risk to the general population.
Three existing floating facilities at the CFC will be designated as holding or quarantine facilities. These will house sign-on crew who are waiting for their ships’ arrival for up to 48 hours, and a quarantine facility to house close contacts of seafarers who test positive for COVID-19.
There will also be an on-site medical centre in the centre.
"During COVID-19, many vessels were not able to dock at ports for crew disembarkation and embarkation. Sadly, an estimated 250,000 seafarers are now stranded at sea. There is an urgent need to help them ‘change shift’," said Mr Ong in a Facebook post.
"A dedicated area for them means lowering the risk of COVID-19 transmission on shore," he added.
Meanwhile, sign-off crew will proceed to depart Singapore or stay at existing designated holding facilities Seacare Hotel or accommodation vessel POSH Bawean for up to 48 hours, and be strictly segregated from the community.
As an international port, many foreign-flagged ships call at Singapore.
MPA told CNA on Aug 16 that 15 Filipino crew members who worked on a vessel that arrived in Singapore from India on Aug 8 for repairs and refuelling had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Bahamas-registered vessel has 22 crew members.
On Thursday, the health ministry reported that one more Filipino seafarer who worked on the vessel also tested positive for COVID-19.
Two technicians who boarded the vessel have also tested positive.
MPA said in its release on Friday that the new measures will enable crew change to take place safely.
"Seafarers play an important role in keeping international trade and global supply chains going, and hence, MPA will take further steps to enable crew change to take place in Singapore safely," it said.
Ms Mary Liew, general-secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union and the president of the NTUC said: "With the new initiative of a dedicated crew facilitation centre which will involve segregating crew in the floating accommodation, we will be able to enhance Singapore’s crew change protocol in a safer manner for seafarers and a more sustainable solution for shipping companies."