By :Michelle Wiese Bockmann
SEVERAL dozen China-bound bulk carriers have diverted to Manila as they loaded or delivered iron ore cargoes from Western Australia over the past seven weeks.
Shipowners and managers are finding workarounds and establishing complex logistics chains to change over crews.
The diverting capesize vessels all loaded iron ore cargoes from the Port Hedland region and were heading to Asia, data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking show.
No such diversions were noted for any capesizes traversing this route in 2019.
As many as 300,000 seafarers are stuck on vessels with expired contracts as lockdown travel restrictions imposed at ports and airports worldwide prevent up to three-quarters of changeovers from going ahead since March.
Shipmangers and shipowners are navigating inconsistent and constantly changing health, quarantine and immigration rules at countries worldwide to meet the logistics challenge of moving the world’s 1.5m seafarers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 35 of the 45 bulk carrier diversions have occurred since June 15, reflecting recent moves by the Philippines to open a travel corridor for seafarers to help facilitate easier crew movements.
The Philippines is the second-largest supplier of merchant crew after China, followed by Russia, India and the Ukraine.
Since the so-called green corridor was set up in the Philippines on July 2, there have been nine diversions tracked. Most took place in the last two weeks of June, before the joint circular directed manning agencies on new procedures for embarking and departing crew.
The lack of available commercial flights as well as immigration restrictions worldwide has resulted in convoluted and expensive ways to repatriate crew and bring on their replacements.
The US has emerged as one of the easiest places to change over crew, mainly due to airline availability, while limited flights between Europe to Asia are adding to difficulties.
One Scotland-based seafarer now in Singapore told of a four-day trip to reach his quarantine destination — a journey that normally took less than 24 hours.
The seafarer travelled to Hong Kong via charter flight from Amsterdam via Rome to pick up more crew. After that, he sailed by cruiseship to Singapore, and is now in quarantine, after being tested for coronavirus three times along the way.
Philippines restrictions of movement of foreign seafarers (as of July 16) is likely restricting further diversions of bulk carriers and other vessels from Australia heading to China.