The repatriation of 400,000 Cypriot ship crews stranded around the world by COVID-19 was a priority for all stakeholders in the industry, a Cyprus shipping forum heard.

The issue was highlighted by George A Tsavliris, the chairman of the fifth annual Capital Link Cyprus Shipping Forum that was held online from Limassol on 17 June.

“Our crews and seamen have been the most affected during the (COVID-19) pandemic with over 400,000 seafarers stranded on ships beyond the expiry of their contracts and unable to be repatriated to their homes and families due to COVID travel restrictions,”Mr Tsavliris told the forum.

“The collaboration of all stakeholders is required to prioritize their repatriation and COVID-19 vaccinations. In terms of the regulatory sanctions, we need to effectively communicate the specifics of the sector to those regulating the sector as the overall burden should not rest with the shipowner.” .

Mr Tsavliris, also noted that Cyprus and its shipping community had proved resilient and adaptable and had embraced the “3Ps” of patience, perseverance and passion.

” As we navigate in the continuing corona virus crisis, our sector continues to face diverse and complex challenges: geopolitical, regulatory sanctions, compliance with low sulphur and decarbonisation, the increasing impact of digitalisation and automation, environmental and climate changes.”

The Deputy Managing Director of OSM Maritime Group, Julia Anastasiou said that recognition by Cyprus’ Shipping Ministry of seafarers as essential workers had placed the island nation at the forefront in setting a positive example for the industry.

“Being one of the first nations to openly express their will to work with international and national bodies to find solutions to the mounting crisis, Cyprus is actively extenuating the several risks associated with prolonged crew contracts, fatigue and mental illness associated with the inability to carry out crew changes.”

“The establishment of a corridor for the purpose of allowing crew changes to be carried out in Cyprus has been welcomed with open arms, however, it is not enough considering the volume of seafarers who remain stranded on board the global fleet. It is with high hope that this specific gesture will set the wheels in motion for the international community to follow suit and ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of seafarers is prioritised,” said Ms Anastasiou.

She added that it was “unfortunate” that after 18 months of the pandemic few nations had adopted clear protocols for seafarers and praised Cyprus shipping ministry for making positive moves in this aspect.

Cyprus’ Deputy Minister for Shipping Vassilios Demetriades was the keynote speaker at the forum which also discussed issue relating to Cyprus as an international maritime centre; the incentives and advantages of Cyprus as a ship-owning base and registry; environmental sustainability; the shipowners’ perspective on transformation in a fast-changing world; Cyprus as a financial hub in the region; and accelerating digital transformation.