Ship managers and manning agents using Colombo as a hub for crew change involving Indian seafarers received a setback after 29 crew who flew there tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the Sri Lankan government to ban crew arrivals by air.
The crew had reached Colombo on a chartered flight arranged by a Mumbai-based ship manager.
Following this, Sri Lanka has suspended movement of crew by air to Colombo.
“This is really unfortunate,” said a Mumbai-based crewing manager. “Crew changes through Colombo were getting traction,” he said.
Ship managers and crewing firms looking to rotate Indian crew in overseas locations had identified Doha and Colombo as hub airports through which the exercise was carried out using chartered flights.
Colombo has agreed to allow Indian seafarers to stay for five days if they reach Colombo for joining a ship and seven days if they are going out of Colombo on a chartered flight, provided the flights are confirmed.
Captain Sanjay Prashar, managing director of V R Maritime Services, which had chartered the flight, said: “Everything was well till Sri Lanka decided to give contract for Covid-19 testing to a private lab. First time they did the job and said 29 seafarers were Covid positive. All the crew did the test and had negative reports filed with Sri Lanka and then flew from Mumbai.
At least four more chartered flights planned from Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai to Colombo before July 1 looks doubtful.
With Sri Lanka suspending crew changes, Indian ship managers are scouting for alternative sites to swap staff, with some suggesting Port Blair in Andaman and Batam in Indonesia as good candidates due to the short deviation from the main international shipping route and lower costs.
Yet another alternative could be to have an Indian naval vessel with adequate medical facilities stationed near Colombo or Andaman, which can be used for sign-on/off of Indian seafarers.