The Hong Kong Government announced Saturday (27 June) that the arrangements for crew of cargo ships to transit Hong Kong when leaving or joining ship without the need for 14-days quarantine has been extended to crews on passenger ships including cruise liners.
The managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals, Jeff Bent, expressed delight at the decision. “I (along with others) have been lobbying for cruise crew changes, but I am not on the VTC distribution list. This is really good news for the seafarers, and hopefully also local provisioners and bunker providers if they are allowed to provide service,” he said.
As from 27 June outgoing crew members on passenger vessels, in line with their counterparts on ocean-going vessels, who have completed their service on board will not be subject to 14 days quarantine.
Instead, they shall be simply required to stay onboard the vessel during their stay in Hong Kong and travel directly to the airport for repatriation to their home countries so as to minimize contact with the local community.
Incoming crew members should only arrive in Hong Kong when their vessels are berthed in Hong Kong and should get on board immediately upon arrival.
If there is a genuine need for crew to stay in Hong Kong whilst awaiting to board, the shipping companies/agents should arrange them in accommodation for self-isolation until getting onboard: point to point transfers should be arranged by the shipping companies/for crew members to and from the vessel.
Unlike the crew on ocean-going cargo vessels, because of the very large number of crew often working on cruise liners, the daily quota allowed to sign off or sign on at any one time is capped at 300. Additional requirements for crew on this class of vessel include:
There has been no boarding of passenger or cruise members to the cruise ship concerned in the 14 days prior to its arrival and there should be no passengers onboard upon arrival;
All persons onboard the cruise ship concerned should be asymptomatic upon arrival;
Cruise ships need to carry out crew change at designated anchorages assigned by the Hong Kong Marine Department; and
Cruise ships are required to stay in Hong Kong waters until all the crew members to be repatriated have left Hong Kong.
The economic impact on Hong Kong tourism since the Government halted CIQ services (Customs Immigration Quarantine) at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on 5 February, has been devastating. Based on the latest figures available it is suspected that the lost contribution could be as much as HK$4.5bn.
International cruise ships are scheduled to return to Hong Kong from September, subject to Covid-19 related restrictions at the time. In the meantime Mr Bent hopes that, “Cruise to nowhere could resume in Hong Kong after a sufficiently long period with no local transmission of the virus, at least the industry hopes so.”
Ending his comments on a high note, Mr Bent added that 90% of the Government’s HK$6.6bn investment in the cruise terminal has now been paid off.
Frank Coles, Group CEO of Wallem Group, whose agency business deals with the bulk of cruise arrivals, said:
“We are obviously very pleased with this development. We have worked hard at supporting the cruise companies and reaching out to the Hong Kong government.
“We are thankful that the Hong Kong government has provided the industry with the most sensible and pragmatic crew change rules in the world, for not only cruise ships but also cargo ships. Now many stranded seafarers can go home and be relieved after a long period of uncertainty. A big thank you to all those who made this possible.”
The managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, Sandy Chan, added:
“We are so pleased to see that the Hong Kong SAR Government has further relaxed the arrangements to facilitate crew changes. This is essential and most helpful, as ship crews are our heroes at sea, and the global supply chain must continue to function well at this critical time.
As an international maritime centre, Hong Kong has set a good example. For the interests of all, we hope there will be more sensible, practical measures from governments to help the shipping sector cope with the various problems under the “new normal” situation.”
Since the new arrangements for cargo ship crew was introduced on 8 June, the number of successful repatriations through Hong Kong have soared.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Xinde Marine News.
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