THE International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said governments should facilitate the movement of international transport personnel who have been affected by travel restrictions due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Each month, about 100,000 merchant seafarers need to be changed over from the ships on which they operate to ensure compliance with international maritime regulations protecting safety, health and welfare,” IATA and ICS said in a joint statement on April 14.

“As a result of government-imposed travel restrictions due to COVID-19, flights to repatriate or position marine personnel are unavailable. Immigration and health screening protocols are also hampering the ability of merchant ships to conduct vitally necessary crew changes,” they added.

IATA represents some 290 airlines, accounting for 82% of global air traffic, while ICS, an international trade association of merchant shipowners and operators, represents over 80% of the global merchant fleet.

IATA and ICS said that regulations intended for passengers and non-essential personnel unnecessarily jeopardize the ability of airlines and shipping companies to keep global supply chains operating when such restrictions are applied to transport personnel who do not engage with local communities.

They said governments should identify airports that seafarers can use for crew changes and make appropriate adjustments to current health and immigration protocols.

“Priority airports should include those close to major shipping lanes which also have direct air connections to principal seafarer countries of residence, such as China, India and the Philippines as well as destinations in western and eastern Europe,” they explained.

They said that such measures will help keep global supply chains open, noting that shipping companies deliver about 90% of global trade while airlines, apart from their passenger flights, carry some 35% of global trade by value.

ICS Secretary-General Guy Platten was quoted as saying: “Seafarers are unsung heroes who everyday throughout this COVID-19 crisis are going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that countries are kept supplied with the goods they need. We are working with the airlines to come forward with solutions. We now need governments to support our seafarers and facilitate safe passage for them to get home to loved ones and be replaced by crew members ready to keep supply chains open.”

Artemio U. Tuazon, Jr., Transportation undersecretary for administration and a department representative on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, was asked to comment but had yet to reply at deadline time.

Philippine Airlines, Cebu Air, Inc., Philippines AirAsia, Inc., Air Philippines Corp., and Cebgo, Inc. have grounded their passenger operations due to the government-imposed enhanced community quarantine.

Over 30,000 flights were canceled, affecting nearly five million passengers, the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines said. — Arjay L. Balinbin