December, 2020 - Covid-19 and the crew change crisis
- Date: 11/12/2020
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Among the many serious knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact on crew has been a topic of particular concern within the shipping industry. Many ports have imposed restrictions or prohibitions on crew changes, leading to delays whilst joining crew are quarantined, or a need to deviate ships from their intended port rotation in order to effect essential crew changes. Aside from the clear humanitarian issues posed by this crisis, parties also need to consider the contractual impacts that may arise.
Naturally, any situation is highly fact-dependent and subject to the terms agreed by the parties. Regrettably, a lack of clarity in some areas, given that this is unchartered territory, means that there is fertile ground for disputes to arise. That said, there is some general guidance which this article seeks to summarise.
Obligations of seaworthiness
Under common law, an absolute obligation of seaworthiness may be implied on delivery of the ship (under a time charter) or at the
time of sailing (under a voyage charter). Charterparties may also contain express obligations of seaworthiness which continue throughout the voyage. The seaworthiness obligation is not limited to the ship’s physical fitness but also includes compliance with legal requirements, including those pertaining to crew.