Crew Changes in Apeejay Shipping in times of COVID19

Captain Ranganathan Narasimhan

Ever since the lockdown, Apeejay Shipping has been waiting eagerly for ways to ensure that the staff on board our fleet in need of a much deserved relief are able to join their families at the earliest. The lockdown in India due to COVID-19 started on 26th March 2020 and has been extended thrice. With lockdown came the suspension of crew change at all Indian Ports. Apeejay Shipping, in addition to various efforts to find ways to carry-out crew change in Indian ports, had also announced an additional allowance to the ship-staff who had completed their contracts and could not sign-off owing to the Pandemic. The Government’s commitment to assist the suffering sea-farers and the initiatives by various shipping interests in India resulted in the SOP for Crew-Change come into force from 23rd April 2020. As soon as the SOP was in place, Apeejay Shipping swung into action in finding solutions to carry-out crew-change at various Indian ports. With many vessels on coast or calling India, crew change became a necessity. However, given the highly infectious nature of the Virus and the strictures required as per the SOP, not all ports could comply with the SOP. Even now, only some ports are fully equipped for crew-change to be carried out as per the SOP. Conditions still change over-night with new restrictions appearing at different ports in different states.

Since the SOP came into effect, Apeejay Shipping has carried out crew change in Krishnapatnam, Vizag, Ennore, Tuticorin and a near successful attempt at Haldia. The most difficult aspects of the crew change were to get the joiners from one part of the country to ports at other parts of the country, getting the joiners tested for COVID, keep them in quarantine and carry-out the crew change and then send the off-signer to yet another part of the country. This needed to be done only by road in the absence of flights or trains.

The Crew change starts with the joiners giving a self-declaration which will be vetted by the Company’s Medical Doctor who is approved by DG Shipping, applying for E-pass on the website of DGShipping, getting the person to the port where crew change is to be done by car that will have to traverse through multiple checkpoints with safe passage through each checkpoint depending on the discretion of the Superintendent of Police of the region, hoping that the joiners test negative for COVID-19, getting a suitable quarantine facility where they could stay till the ship arrives, comply with all the requirements of the Port Health Officer of the Port and get them on board and that only completes half the task ! The off-signer has to test negative for COVID and again arrangements have to be made to see that he reaches his destination safely and the vehicle is able to return back. One kink in this chain could halt the entire process.

Some Images from the Transfer between Kabir Anand and Angad 2 at Krishnapatnam Port

After the SOP came into effect, on one of our ships , the Crew were too hesitant to move out of India. While we struggled hard for crew-change at the Port, it simply was not meant to be. Due to local restrictions and facilities for carrying out COVID tests or for keeping people on quarantine as per the SOP not yet ready, the only way crew-change could be done was to interchange staff from one ship to another when two of our ships were at the same port. This could happen with the support from the Port, PHO, Customs and Immigration. This was the best use of a bad situation.

 Our next success came at Vizag for APJ Shirin.  while joining Chief Engineer was from Vizag, the off-signer was from Kolkata. Since the SOP had entered into force, we had planned for the the off-signing chief engineer to sail parallel and sign off at Haldia. Given that Crew change had not yet taken place at Haldia and our agents were unsure, we immediately decided to sign off at Vizag itself and got the clearance from immigration department at the last minute after a great difficulty.

Getting down from the ship on the 01st May, the Chief engineer was put in quarantine under port facility and taken to hospital for COVID 19 test on 02nd May and released on 03rd May after testing negative. It took 03 days to get the approval to move him out of Vizag and chief engineer travelled to Kolkata with the travel pass and reached home safely on 08th May.

Next, we executed a crew-change at Tuticorin on the 14th May for APJ Kabir Anand. Nine of crew signed-off and ten joined. The Off-signers will be going to places such as Lucknow and Kolkata all by road. Here are our brave staff :-

After much efforts, we could carry-out the Crew Change on APJ Mahakali on the 15th May. The joining Master is from Kolkata. He was sent on board the same ship at Haldia after fulfilling all the requirements of the SOP but due to lack of permission to sign-off another crew member at Haldia, he had to come back to Kolkata. After a day’s rest, he started for Chennai by road armed with self test of Covid 19, e-pass and enough packed food for the journey. His journey through three states was tumultuous and officer reached finally Chennai safely on the 04th May, tested for COVID 19 and put in quarantine the next day. Simultaneously, Chief engineer was brought from Mumbai to Chennai and after a long wait under quarantine, they could join the Mahakali along with another chief officer who is identified from Chennai on 15th May. Here’s a picture of the Captain finally getting on board an ambulance alongwith others to go to Ennore Port where Mahakali awaited in berth :-

Captain Raj Sengupta boarding the ambulance on 15th May with Chief Engineer who had come from Mumbai and Chief officer who is a local from Chennai.

Here’s a picture of Captain Prabhu and Captain Sengupta as well as a Zoom call conducted with our Director CSR & Communications Renu Kakkar and both the Captains on board our vessel finally ! We wanted to together thank them on behalf of everyone at HO for their patience and fortitude at this crew exchange that took so very long but has finally happened. MV APJ Mahakali will be heading off to Haldia Port tommorow from Ennore Port where it is going to stay in berth for one more day!

As Billie Holiday sang “The difficult I’ll do right now, The impossible will take a little while” what could never be imagined is happening today. Our Seafarers criss-crossing the nation from one corner to another by road and joining ships when the nation is under lockdown due to a Pandemic ! This won’t be possible without persistent, never lose hope attitude from the fleet personnel department with solid backing from the promoters, tireless round the clock support from DG Shipping, INSA, Ministry of Shipping and empathetic consideration from Port Health Officers, efficient agents and a logistics service provider that moves as you desire !   Far away from the Ships and Ports and sea farers, it is my WFH colleague Sanjib Ghosh who has been ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ state remote managing every little detail with me and the FPD team so that the crew and their families never lose hope. Sanjib was captured in our May Day 2020 blog and you can read his experience of WFH and how he now is self rating himself as 8 on a scale of 1 – 10 for his focus on solutions.

Having tasted success so far, the team at Apeejay Shipping is ever ready to see that the staff are taken care and their troubles resolved at the earliest possible  !

Captain Narasimhan is Chief Operating Officer, Apeejay Shipping

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