The concept of “hub” ports to receive, quarantine, test for Covid-19 and potentially vaccinate seafarers in the Pacific region was explored at a recent roundtable meeting involving representatives from states in the region, UN agencies, the shipping industry, the relevant trade union organisation, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), seafarers from Pacific island states have faced circuitous and lengthy journeys to return home when this has been arranged, illustrating the complexities of the crew change crisis.
Globally, there are some 400 000 seafarers needing to be repatriated from ships, having completed their contracted time at sea, with a similar number trying to join ships. Kiribati said that more than 320 of its seafarer nationals were currently stranded, mainly in Brazil, Denmark, Germany and Spain, with plans to repatriate them, in groups of 20, via Germany and Fiji.
Covid-19-free countries (Samoa and Tonga) require nationals to quarantine for 14 days in Fiji or New Zealand.
Transit and repatriation requirements, usually via indirect flights, include quarantine days and negative Covid test results before onboarding flights/entry into the country.
The meeting identified the potential for hub ports in Australia (Brisbane), Fiji and New Zealand, and welcomed those countries’ willingness to help. At the same time, limitations such as the need to book limited quarantine facilities in advance, short supply of medical resources, including PCR equipment and test kits, and the costs of repatriation were acknowledged.
The need for priority vaccination for seafarers was also highlighted.
The meeting was organised by the IMO.