Repatriations are possible but challenging says crew specialist

As the cruise industry remains paralysed by the global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and with crew repatriations at the forefront of current shipping industry concerns, a Far East crewing specialist is leading the way – bringing home more than 9,000 crew members over the past three months, with some 1,000 others due back soon.

Singapore and Manila-based CF Sharp Crew Management is using a combination of commercial and charter flights and cruise vessels to bring crew members (both cruise crew and seafarers from cargo vessels) to the Philippines, where it then organises all the necessary quarantine measures and required virus testing for all.

With the shipping industry pooling resources and sharing information in order to bring hundreds of thousands of stranded seafarers home, ship management organisation InterManager has set up a ‘Maritime Champions Club’ to demonstrate to seafarers the efforts the industry is taking on their behalf. Boutique firm CF Sharp Crew Management currently tops this league, ahead of shipmanagement giant V.Ships.

Roger Storey, Marketing Director of CF Sharp Crew Management, which works with cruise lines such as NCL, Oceana and Regent Seven Seas, recalled: “We were quick to identify the importance of bringing crew home. Starting as early as March 19, we began bringing our seafarers home. Working with our cruise industry clients, our first charter flight arrived in Manila on April 1st, and was followed by 14 more over the coming weeks.

“At the time every hotel in Manila had shut down and no facilities had been approved for quarantine by the Philippine Government’s Bureau of Quarantine (BoQ). Thanks to the 24 hours a day work of the Sharp Travel team, we were able to get numerous hotels approved for quarantine – both facility quarantine and stringent facility quarantine. Hotel rooms weren’t easy to come by but we worked hard to find them and I am pleased to report that, at the peak, we engaged more than 20 hotels and every crew member got a hotel room – and a single room at that!”

Thanking the CF Sharp team for going “above and beyond the call of duty” he said: “We have had to pave the way for these repatriations to happen, finding solutions to all the challenges and reacting quickly to changing regulations.”

CF Sharp staff have overcome many challenges. Mr Storey said: “In the beginning everything went really well with most crew members completing their compulsory quarantine before going home. The real problems started when swab testing became mandatory but test results were slow to come back – and in some cases didn’t! We had some crew sitting in hotel rooms for 30 days or more some of them ended up having to redo the swab test.”

With such large volumes of crew to be repatriated, Sharp has now turned to cruise liners to bring them home. This week (Tuesday 16th June) the NCL cruise ship Norwegian Joy is expected to arrive at the Philippines from the US west coast with 467 Filipinos crew onboard of which 350 will ‘offsign’ being long overdue for crew relief. Also onboard are 312 Indian seafarers who are due to then fly home to Goa and Mumbai. A number of Chinese seafarers will be flown back to China or remain onboard awaiting the arrival of a further vessel, the Norwegian Escape.
Upon arrival and following ship clearance, the 350 offsigning seafarers will undergo swab tests with results expected back within 2/3 days. Negative tests will enable them to depart the ship and return their homes and families.

Meanwhile the new crew who are due to join the vessel have been selected after undergoing swab tests and complying with all new pre-employment medical requirements, which now include having a ‘flu’ vaccination.

The Norwegian Escape is scheduled to arrive from Europe on approximately the 13th July carrying 550 Filipinos who will all follow the above procedures, together with any new requirements. The vessel will also bring further Chinese seafarers and at present the plan is for the ship to sail to China with all the Chinese seafarers from both Joy and Escape.

Mr Storey commented: “This is an ongoing and mammoth undertaking but we are proud to be able to do all we can for crew members around the world at this difficult time.”