Our best practices for charterers to facilitate crew changes


We have developed a framework of best practices for charterers to help facilitate crew changes. Our ambition is to create a framework that charterers can adapt to their own specific circumstances. We hope that this will inspire others to not only implement these actions on but also to openly share their best practices.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, so does the unprecedented crew-change crisis. Many good efforts have been ongoing to resolve the situation since the pandemic’s first year, but there are still hundreds of thousands of seafarers on ships beyond the expiry of their contracts. The situation is further exacerbated by new virus variants and changing national rules regarding crew changes.

Overcoming this challenge requires all stakeholders; international organizations, governments, industry associations, labour unions, NGOs and individual companies to play their part.

Governments must recognize seafarers as key workers, prioritize their access to vaccines and implement health protocols that will allow crew changes to take place safely. This is especially important in the current situation where Covid is starting to spread again, including in important seafaring hubs.

The private sector must also collaborate to overcome the crisis. Charterers such as our companies play an important role in the maritime supply chain and we therefore have a responsibility to play our part in solving the crisis by working together with shipowners and other stakeholders.

The Neptune Declaration addresses the role of charterers, calling for increased collaboration between charterers and shipowners. Accordingly, managing crew changes is a shared responsibility and no charter contracts should contain clauses preventing necessary crew changes from being carried out. But the good intentions can only help improve the situation on the ground if they are turned into action, not just by us but also by our peers.

This is why we – a group of charterers from both the wet and dry bulk sectors and Signatories to the Neptune Declaration – have developed a framework of best practices for charterers to help facilitate crew changes based on the experience and learnings we have gathered since the start of the pandemic as well as input from other Neptune Declaration Signatories.

Our intention is not to change the ship owners’ responsibilities vis a vis the crew or the operation of their vessels. Our ambition is to create a framework that a charterer can adapt to their own specific circumstances to help facilitate crew-changes. We hope that this will inspire others to not only implement these actions on the ground but also to openly share their best practices.

We believe, based on our experience, that by working together charterers and shipowners can facilitate needed crew changes, while minimizing the disruptions to operations. This will create benefits for all stakeholders involved not least the seafarers, who are the backbone of global seaborne trade.

Best practices for charterers

The starting point of our best practices is to have a clear leadership mandate from top management, that states the intent of the organization to play its role in carrying out necessary crew changes. This sends a clear signal to all our employees that we are ready to take all reasonable efforts to ensure crew changes take place, even when this may lead to costs and delays.

As responsible businesses we are however also focused on finding ways to eliminate or reduce the extra cost or operational disruptions of performing crew changes during the pandemic. Often this can be achieved through organization, dialogue and planning as outlined below.

All of our organizations have put in place a central point of contact in charge of supporting crew changes across all chartering operations. This ensures that we can adopt a uniform approach, that we can learn from our experiences and it provides us with added flexibility in terms of planning the use of our chartered vessels. We can for instance factor in the crew change needs when deciding which vessel is used for which cargo thus reducing the risk of delays to our operations.

Dialogue and transparency in our engagement with shipowners is also critical to facilitate crew changes. We need to understand the situation of the vessel and the crew in order to be able to play our part in facilitating crew change.

Before chartering a vessel, we ask the shipowner to provide us with information on the precautions taken by the shipowner, for instance in terms of health protocols implemented to minimize the risk of Covid-19. We also ask for information on crew contract status and upcoming plans for crew-change.

The reason we ask for this information is not that we want to only charter vessels with no need for crew changes. The reason we ask for this information is to be able to work with the shipowner to find the best solutions for carrying out necessary crew changes that can both ensure that the crew changes can take place, but also that our operations can keep running smoothly.

In spot chartering arrangements, we rely on the same principles as with time charters. Nonetheless, we have less influence over the long-term planning of crew changes, as any necessary crew change will need to happen on the one voyage the vessel has been hired for. Consequently, if the crew requires a change, our ability to accommodate a crew change while ensuring the charter fits our operational needs is more limited. We will still work together with shipowners to find ways to carry out crew changes for spot charters within reasonable time and cost limits, but if such a solution cannot be found, we may select another vessel for the cargo.

Yet, even with the best laid-out plans, we have all been in circumstances where an unexpected situation has arisen, for instance a change in government regulations, which has prevented us from carrying out a crew change according to plan. In such instances, we have worked closely with shipowners to find solutions to ensure that we can get the seafarers home even if that has led to significant costs or delays. Because at the end of the day, our businesses are dependent on the seafarers, who man the ships carrying our cargoes, and we as charterers have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that the seafarers are not paying the price of the pandemic, while in our service.

Ultimately, to echo the Neptune Declaration’s principles, it is by recognizing our shared responsibility for the seafarers, who make global seaborne trade possible, and by collaborating, that the maritime ecosystem will be able to tackle this crisis.

We hope the best practices for charterers and shipowners will help inspire others both to renew their efforts to help overcome the crew crisis and to also share their practices so we can continue to learn from each other as the situation continues to evolve.

We also hope that this crisis and how we are working together to overcome it, can give us important insights that will allow us to better deal with future disruptions, whether caused by a new pandemic or other unforeseen events.