CHINA has lifted its crew change restrictions, but ports are confused about the change and shore leave is still prohibited, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.

In December last year the Chinese government issued a notice which would lift the approval procedure for crew change on international vessels. The notice came into force on 8 January.

According to a circular from China’s Huatai Marine insurance service (dated 19 January) the notice removes crew change approval procedures.

The ICS said the new mandates mean seafarers disembarking in Chinese ports should no longer be subject to on-arrival testing and quarantine before repatriation.

“Although the Chinese government has lifted restrictions on crew change, confusion about these changes abound – with some ports still enforcing the requirements imposed almost three years ago when the pandemic began,” ICS said in an update.

The circular from Huatai Marine indicates restrictions are inconsistent across Chinese ports.

“Crew change restrictions on both Chinese and foreign seafarers have been lifted at ports such as Tianjin, ports of Hebei Province, Ningbo port, and Xiamen port,” Huatai Marine wrote.

“At some ports such as Dalian, crew change restrictions are partially lifted and change of Chinese crew members can be arranged smoothly.

“It is estimated by local agents that foreign crew change will be permitted soon. However, there are also some ports where crew change restrictions lifted in principle but are still being implemented gradually, such as Qingdao port and ports in Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces.”

The ICS also noted the nationwide prohibition of shore leave is still in effect – likely to combat the recent surge in XBB.1.5 and Omicron Covid variants.

While restrictions ease in China, the ICS said several countries including India, Japan and South Korea have reintroduced testing requirements and restrictions for seafarers disembarking or taking shore leave from ships arriving directly from China.

The Global Maritime Forum also observed the situation – its quarterly Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator in January reported tighter restrictions in India and Japan were creating crew change problems.

The ICS said the restrictions may have tightened over concerns of higher infection rates following Lunar New Year celebrations.

It also reported congestion challenges at major Chinese ports.

“Chinese manufacturers and hauliers currently face chronic staff shortages, leading to freight booking cancellations and congestion increasing at the ports of Qingdao, Ningbo, Shanghai and Shenzhen,” ICS said.

“However, per the National Health Commission in China, the wave of infections has begun to significantly decrease in major cities.

“This suggests that the outbreak may be on the wane and manufacturing output and port operations will slowly resume to normal capacity.

“Despite the recent surge in cases, shipowners and operators are not expected to be seriously impacted by restrictions, with lessons from the pandemic in place at major ports to manage crew change risks.”