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‘We’ll treat Russian seafarers fairly,’ say shipping leaders

Following a series of black swan events in recent years, the Ukraine situation has spurred the shift of shipping companies’ crewing strategy

While striving to help their Ukraine crew, shipping executives say they also remain supportive of Russian crew who continue to be employed on board. Mariners from both nations often sail together and Russian seafarers are not treated as opponents 

RUSSIAN seafarers should be treated fairly and equally despite the invasion of Ukraine, according to shipping leaders.

“It’s really important for us to remember that just because someone is Russian, it doesn’t mean they are pro-war. And these people have families to feed and careers to build on,” said Taylor Maritime chief executive Edward Buttery.

The Hong Kong-based shipowner and manager employees nearly 300 seafarers from Russia and 230 from Ukraine, who are often sailing together.

Mr Buttery told a Marine Money session as part of Singapore Maritime Week, his company would not be lifting Russian cargo but will be supportive of the country’s crew.

“We don’t regard the Russian seafarers as the enemy here. We are more than happy to employ them on board,” said Rene Piil Pedersen, managing director of AP Moller-Maersk Singapore.

The container shipping giant has several dozen Russians and about 500 Ukrainians in its crew team.

There are, however, practical challenges to continue hiring the former group.

While travel restrictions are affecting their mobility, sanctions against Russian banks, for example, have also caused difficulties in salary payment, Mr Pedersen pointed out.

He added that Maersk is currently striving to help the Ukrainian seafarers and their families evacuate to the neighbouring countries on the west side.

“We hope these will also be the seafarers that will serve on our vessels in future.”

Similar views were also expressed by other speakers, including Ocean Network Express chief executive Jeremy Nixon and his counterpart in X-Press Feeders Shmuel Yoskovitz.

“We have tremendous respect for the Ukrainian and Russian seafarers. They are very good seafarers. I’m sure the industry will stand by them. We want to see them back on our vessels,” said Mr Nixon.

Swire Shipping managing director James Woodrow said the Ukraine situation, as part of a series of black swan events in recent years, has further spurred the shift of shipping companies’ crewing strategy.

The company owns and operates a fleet of 36 ships

“Two or three years ago, we were thinking that concentrating on two or three nationalities actually made sense,” said Mr Woodrow. “We rather changed our thinking. First, we had a lot of difficulties with our Myanmar seafarers [due to the coup].

“Then, with Covid, we had difficulties with seafarers in India and the Philippines and now in China. We’ve also got Ukraine. So I think at the moment, we want to be as diversified as possible.”

The diversification is easier for smaller shipping firms with less crew than their bigger rivals, said Mr Woodrow.   

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