The COVID-19 pandemic has created issues for superyacht crews on a hitherto unprecedented scale. Unlike traditional concerns, that typically focus on a particular region or crew nationality, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a global crisis that will, in one way or another, affect large numbers of crew. Major concerns include the inability of crewmembers to benefit from government financial support schemes, minimum manning requirements and difficulties surrounding repatriation.

“I can only comment on the UK’s job retention scheme, but we do have concerns about the conditions for accessing the financial aid where it relates to the superyacht crew,” starts Charles Boyle, director of legal services at Nautilus International. “The problem is that many seafarers will be employed on offshore contracts. In order to benefit from the UK’s scheme, the business must have a UK bank account and the employee in question must be a registered PAYE worker, which is going to cause problems. I expect that yacht personnel are going to be unable to benefit from the UK’s furloughing or self-employment schemes.”

In previous articles we have explored how the health of the superyacht market is going to be reliant on the decisions made by superyacht owners or those clients that are currently engaged in build projects. As certain owners decide what is best for themselves and their assets, the crew landscape is likely to be no different.

“Superyacht owners will need to decide on systems that suit their own needs, and indeed the needs of their employees (crew),” continues Boyle.

It may be, for instance, that some owners decide to reduce the number of crew on board their vessel to minimum standard in order to account for lost charter revenues. Other owners, who are eager to maintain their crews and go yachting once the dust settles, may decide to keep their crew employed throughout the crisis.

“Owners are going to be offering a variety of choices,” explains Boyle. “I have already seen examples where owners are offering their crew a number of options. While the options vary in their makeup, typically they include being repatriated without future pay and having reduced pay and being kept on board. However, the options will undoubtedly vary from vessel to vessel. Even so, there will likely be a number of crewmembers with cash flow problems for the coming months.”

In the scenarios where crew are being sent home with minimum crewing standards being applied for yachts that are in port or on the hard, the issues surrounding government help schemes will be felt especially keenly. With no job and no access to aid, many crews will be required to live on whatever cash reserves they have or, alternatively, seek employment in what is surely the worst job market in living memory. Equally, if these same crewmembers require updates to their qualifications – which don’t come cheap – they may well decide that re-entering the market once the dust has settled is not an appealing prospect, given the poor situation they found themselves in throughout this crisis.

“Most of the queries that we have received concern repatriation and simply getting home,” explains Boyle. “While getting home may be the solution to many seafarers’ problems, the situation is just not that simple today. The major steps would be to contact a union[if they are a member], be aware of their repatriation rights under the MLC and to contact their local consulate or embassy. However, depending where they are in the world, even getting out of the port may not be possible. Equally, the jurisdiction they are trying to reach may not be accepting any flights.”

There is, however, potentially some good news in this regard. Several maritime authorities are urging the international community to accept that seafarers are essential workers, with more information to this effect expected in due course. It is believed that, should seafarers become recognised as essential workers, there can be no distinction between yachting and commercial personnel. In this regard, the yachting community may finally be glad that, in terms of legality, there is no distinction between the two.

“If seafarers get categorised on a special status for transit to ship and back, as well as repatriation, no distinction will be made [between] seafarers and yacht works. There should be no guidance that will make one set of rules for one and one for another,” concludes Boyle.

For more information please see the following resources:

ILO - Information note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus (COVID-19) 

MCA - Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 and COVID-19

Crew employment during COVID-19 pandemic


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