Crew change services from Sri Lanka’s Mattala Airport for global shipping is gathering pace with a charter flight coming from Belgium coming with fresh seafarers for a cruise ship docked at the island, amid a Coronavirus crisis.
Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited, the state airport agency and the island’s ports are working together to help ships change crew while many airports and closed around the world.
On May 28, an Enter Air Boeing 737-800 had arrived with 43 crew members at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and taken back 35 from a cruise ship anchored at Galle Port. Agents for the vessel were GAC Shipping.
Earlier in May a Boeing 767-300 ER, came to Mattala from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to transfer 235 crew members to a cruise ship that was also anchored at Galle Harbor.
“The strategic importance of Sri Lanka’s geographical location at the southernmost tip of the Indian Ocean … have encouraged the international maritime and aviation industry players to choose the MRIA as a destination for international ship crew changes,” Shehan Sumanasekara, Director, AASL said.
“Further, we will offer all nine Freedoms of the air to any foreign airline operating in and out of MRIA without restrictions whatsoever.”
Sri Lanka has slashed landing fees and boarding charges at the Mattala to draw more airlines.
About 100,000 merchant seafarers need to be changed over every month from the ships on which they operate to ensure compliance with the international maritime regulations protecting the safety, health, and welfare.
China, India, the Philippines and countries in the EU and Eastern Europe are home to 80 percent of the global merchant shipping crew and about 100,000 seafarers need to be changed every month, the AASL said.
On the other hand Indian Port – Cochin Port Trust (CPT) the authorities were planning to develop the port to a hub for crew change and other transshipment services like bunkering in the region. But ban on International flight by India and high port dues all proved unfavorable to the shipowners and managers. It is presently used only to embark/disembark Indian seafarers.