THE number of seafarers working beyond expired contracts is at an eight-month low, according to the latest Neptune Declaration Crew Change Indicator, though the omicron variant may derail recent progress.  

Published by the Global Maritime Forum, the December report suggests the number of seafarers onboard vessels at the expiry of their contracts has decreased from 7.1% in November to 4.7% last month.

The number of seafarers onboard vessels for more than 11 months has also decreased, from 1% in November to 0.7% in December.

These figures are the lowest recorded since the crew change indicator was first published in May last year.

The improvements are attributed to an increase in seafarer vaccination rates, eased travel restrictions, and COVID-19 infection rates declining in some regions.

The Neptune Indicator also reported an 8.5% increase in seafarer vaccinations, from 41% in November to 49.5% in December as seafarers gain better access to vaccines.

The numbers are encouraging, according to Kasper Søgaard, managing director, head of institutional strategy and development at the Global Maritime Forum. However he said the latest COVID variant poses a new threat.  

“The spread of the new omicron variant could … lead to a reversal of these positive trends,” he said.

“It is important that governments treat seafarers as key workers and continue to allow crew changes, when the proper health protocols are respected.”

While vaccination rates near the half-way mark, some challenges persist, with vaccine hesitancy and supply challenges reported in certain geographies.

The Neptune Indicator also highlighted difficulties relating to seafarer travel, largely attributed to issues with international vaccine recognition and approval.

Ship managers reported in December that crew changes were still being disrupted by flight cancellations, strict regional crew change requirements and travel bans.

The Neptune Indicator builds on aggregated data from ship managers Anglo-Eastern, Bernhard Schulte, Columbia Shipmanagement, Fleet Management, OSM, Synergy Marine, Thome, V.Group, Wallem, and Wilhelmsen Ship Management.