Even now, when global quarantine has begun to decline, not all crews have an ability to change freely or go ashore. Despite known recommendations, published by IMO, ITF and other world-wide organizations, each country decides whether it is ready to remove the ‘Iron Curtain’ and open state borders for key workers or everyone else.

In view of this, BIMCO has developed a COVID-19 Crew Change Clause for Time Charter Parties as a result of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic. No wonder, many global ship-owners and ship managers had to remain their crew members aboard while ports and airlines were ‘blocked’ for an indefinite period.

The new clause is prepared to give ship operators a free hand to change ship routes for making crew rotations under tightly defined circumstances. This way is possible only in cases when scheduled port cannot permit rotation due to current coronavirus restrictions. As BIMCO reported, such decision can provide an option for charterers to contribute to the crew change in recognition of the potentially high cost of making a COVID-19 related crew change.

Deputy Secretary General of BIMCO Soren Larsen explained:

“Although the cost of crew changes is usually for owners’ account under a charter party, the extraordinary and unusual circumstances created by COVID-19 have left some owners unable to conduct crew changes on the ship’s trade route. With crew now on board for periods extending beyond their contracts of employment, owners need to have the flexibility to deviate to an alternative place if crew changes can’t be done at the places where the ship is ordered by charterers. This clause is designed to help them with that process and to encourage charterers to assist.”

It should be noted, in 2020, not all countries, including Ukraine, have recognized seafarers as key workers who can freely cross borders. Among the countries recognized seamen as key workers are Georgia, the Philippines, the UK and others.

COVID-19 Crew Change Clause for Time Charter Parties 2020, issued by BIMCO, includes some points.

In addition to any cases, the Vessel can deviate for crew changes if COVID-19-related restrictions don’t allow rotation at the ports or other places to which the Vessel has been ordered or within the scheduled period of call. Any deviation shall not be signified as a disregard of the contract, and ship operators shall not forfeit a penalty. Deviating, ship-owners or ship managers have to take notice Charterers’ interests and inform them in writing as soon as reasonably possible of any changing in ship route which are planned.

Charterers, in return, have to make sure that all the above-mentioned matters will be incorporated into any and all sub-charter parties, bills of lading, waybills or other documents evidencing contracts of carriage issued pursuant to this Charter Party.

During the deviation the Vessel shall remain on hire, but at a reduced rate (if there is no any agreed amount, 50% of the hire rate shall apply; the cost of bunkers must be shared between ship-owners or managers and charterers) OR be off-hire and ship-owner shall pay for bunker oil consumed.

Because of the Vessel called the port of deviation due to specified reasons related to COVID-19, pilotage and other expenses arising out of such crew changes shall be for the ship-owners’ account.

As Seafarers Journal reported, formerly Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd. used a similar practice with MV Genco Liberty crew. The vessel headed to China from Brazil and deviated the given route, calling the port in Singapore. Shortly before that, the island city-state had mitigated a crew rotation procedure. Crew change was successfully completed. It took about 48 hours.