2020 will go down in history as the year of rapidly changing restrictions, trials and hardships, affecting the lives of billions of people in all corners of the world.

For a globalized industry as shipping, founded on international mobility and free movement of its people and ships, the pandemic in many ways pulled the rug out from under our feet.

Gearbulk Covid Action Plan

Early on, Gearbulk established its Covid Action plan, and one of the main objectives was to keep our staff onboard and ashore out of harm’s way.

With a fleet sailing worldwide and offices around the globe, we can thankfully report that only crew onboard two vessels were infected, in addition to a few individuals ashore; all recovered swiftly. Dedicated efforts from our staff onboard and ashore in diligently following company protocols is the main reason for the low numbers.

The Gearbulk seafarers have taken the brunt of the hardships. Contracts have been extended for months and the vessels have sailed in and out of areas under strict covid restrictions. They have not been able to take shore leave, have had minimal interaction with shore staff and have had to adhere to strict protocols for crew changes. Despite this, the vessels were able to maintain cargo deliveries across the globe.

To be able to complete crew changes, a number of vessels had to be deviated off their trading pattern. Because of this, Gearbulk accumulated approximately 55 days in deviations and consumed in excess of 800 tons fuel in doing so.

Several support measures were put in place to support our crews which is elaborated further upon in the next sections.

Gearbulk is both proud and humbled by the professionalism our sailing staff has shown during the pandemic.

Covid Action Committee

In April 2020, Gearbulk established its Covid Action Committee, consisting of people from different departments and locations in the organization. The committee was tasked to work with all departments and functions to establish a Company Covid-19 action plan.

“Our highest priority has been to keep our seafarers and shore staff, along with their families, harm free and to minimize the potential of infection.” - Kristian Jebsen, Chairman

Covid-19 Support Efforts for our Seafarers

Gearbulk Solidarity Fund

Early in the pandemic it was clear that the Covid-19 situation would affect the seafarers more than any, hence it was decided to establish a solidarity fund, where the company and employees had the possibility to contribute financially to those heavily affected by the pandemic.

The establishment of the Gearbulk Solidarity Fund has been highly appreciated by the crew with need for support in these challenging times. The fund has supported 122 seafarers and is still available to crew who are in need of financial support. This initiative will continue for as long as the situation requires and is something the company would not hesitate to use again should there ever be a need.

Covid-19 Allowance

Due to port restrictions, the vast majority of our crews have had to extend their contracts by months; as a result on-signers have not been able to re-join the vessels and provide an income for their families. Gearbulk therefore implemented a Covid-19 allowance, both for those having to extend their stay onboard and for those having to remain at home.

Welfare funds onboard were also increased to allow for additional social events to show appreciation for the commitment and dedication of the crew.

Cash Advance Payments

Cash advance payments were offered to crew at home in need of funds to support their families.

Covid Crew Newsletter

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, clear and concise communication has been of outmost importance. Hence a Covid Crew Newsletter was introduced, where the company on a regular basis has shared updates and developments on the situation with all seafarers.

This was well received by the crew, and these newsletters will continue to be distributed on a regular basis until the situation is back to normal.

Health & Well-being Campaigns

In order to support seafarers in this difficult situation Gearbulk arranged several health and well-being campaigns, addressing both physical and mental health in addition to healthy eating onboard the Gearbulk vessels.

The feedback received from seafarers regarding these campaigns was very good, and it is reported to have had a positive impact on crew’s well-being through these challenging times.

Overcoming challenges with remote solutions

In many ways, 2020 accelerated the organization’s transition to working fully digitally much quicker than we could imagine before the pandemic struck.

A home office set up was quickly rolled out across all our offices. Luckily Gearbulk had already implemented Microsoft 365 which allowed the shore organization to maintain a high level of productivity, albeit having to learn and adapt quickly to work and collaborate in different manners than before.

A global travel ban prevented ship visits from operational and technical staff, and a higher degree of self-reporting was required from the fleet. Scheduled dry dockings in China had to be postponed as the yards were on minimum manning. When vessels could finally could go for docking, Gearbulk’s technical department had to do remote site supervision of the docking projects. Either experienced Gearbulk Chinese Chief Engineers attended on site or third-party companies were used in combination with a tight follow up on phone, email, Teams/ video and other platforms.

Gearbulk shore staff has put in long hours to keep the wheels turning and have adapted to new ways of working impressively fast.