Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, all European ports have been fully operational and continue to do everything they can to fulfil their essential role in the supply chain and provide citizens, health services and businesses in Europe with the products and material they need.
To ensure the continuity of the supply chain, European ports rely on the smooth functioning and mobilisation of all port stakeholders and on the availability and engagement of many transport workers, both on shore and at sea.
The possibility for ship crews to embark on a ship, to return home or be repositioned after a long period at sea is a priority in that respect. However, it is essential for the functioning of European logistics chains that Member States should facilitate crew changes in all of their seaports. It is essential that Member States work in coordination to facilitate the movement of crew and seafarers across land borders, for example to reach a repatriation flight at an airport in a neighbouring country. Neither technically nor economically is it feasible to restrict crew changes to only a select group of main ports.
ESPO and FEPORT welcome in that respect the recently adopted Commission’s Green Lanes concept with its exemptions for transport workers to cross borders. ESPO and FEPORT call on Member States to properly apply these guidelines and make use of the Green Lane border crossings concept, so that movements of ship crews and seafarers who need to embark on a vessel or return home can be facilitated and happen as smoothly as possible. Shipping lines should also liaise with Member States and airports in order to ensure that the necessary flights home for the ship crews can be arranged, both within the EU and to third countries.
While fully recognising the Commission’s efforts to ensure the continuity of maritime transport and the wellbeing of everyone involved in these operations, European ports oppose the Commission proposal requesting Member States to designate specific ports where crew changes are possible. Port calls are planned as part of a complex logistics chain and hinterland distribution. For instance, it is neither possible nor desirable to redirect an ore carrier to a ferry port simply to make a crew change. In addition, berths in all ports will be needed to accommodate laid-up vessels, which in turn also require the possibility of disembarking and embarking crew.
“Today ALL European ports are really doing their utmost to remain operational and play their role as critical nodes in the supply chain and they continue to be engines of growth for their region. A top-down selection of certain ports for the purpose of crew changes might have serious impacts on some ports and port businesses and may unnecessarily disrupt a supply chain which is already under pressure. If crew changes and transfers can be facilitated from and to one port in the country, they can be facilitated in all ports. This issue should be solved as quickly as possible, but must not lead to a top-down reshuffle of port calls in Europe. The Green Lanes concept, combined with a better coordination between Member States is the most effective solution”, comments Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General of ESPO.
“All port stakeholders, including terminal operators have shown high level of professionalism and dedication in ensuring work continuity in safe and healthy conditions. Our priority is to continue to play this critical role in these critical moments. We believe that an initiative like Green Lanes is definitely useful and supports our efforts but would have preferred that the EU Commission’s calls on Member States to facilitate crew changes in any port where it is possible”, adds Lamia Kerdjoudj-Belkaid, Secretary General of FEPORT
On 8 April, the Commission issued a Communication concerning Guidelines on seafarers, passengers and persons on board ships requesting amongst others that Member States would designate ports where fast track crew changes can take place.