Nautilus International is warning charterers and operators to ensure that so-called 'no crew change' clauses do not violate the rights of seafarers.
The Union has been made aware that some charterers are asking shipowners to agree to these clauses because their operations have been disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic, with vessels being redirected to ensure that the seafarers be repatriated from a port that allows crew changes, adding to costs or delays for the charterer.
'Any company dealing with one of these clauses must make sure that it is not in contravention of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) requirements relating to maximum contract lengths for seafarers and the right to leave,' Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton said.
An example of one of these clauses seen by Nautilus says that crew changes should be agreed in advance with the charterer unless caused by an unforeseen circumstance such as injury. The charterer must also be informed when the crew was most recently changed and the details of any changes to take place during the chartered voyage.
Grant Hunter, head of contracts and clauses at BIMCO, the international association representing shipowners, said: 'We are very much against any charter party clause that deliberately creates further obstacles to tackling the crew change crisis.
'It is essential that owners and charterers engage in dialogue to find a solution to crew changes. Our Crew Change Deviation Clause for Time Charter Parties was written with this in mind – we recognised that it would be an uphill struggle for owners to get charterers to accept the clause, but it would at least prompt a conversation on the subject out of which something constructive might come.
'Under a voyage or trip charter the owners will know in advance what ports the ship will call at and can plan their crew change accordingly when concluding the fixture. Under a period time charter the owners will not know in advance what ports the ship will trade to, which makes crew change planning more challenging. This is where we would like to encourage charterers to take a role and assist owners wherever possible and practical.'