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Updated 20 February 2020

Port authorities world-wide are now in a heightened state of alert in order to identify crewmembers or passengers displaying symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019, also known as ‘COVID-19’.

About the outbreak

The ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak has rapidly spread from its origin in Hubei Province, China and has been detected in other countries in Asia as well as in Australia, Europe, North America and Northern Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently assesses the public health risk of this event to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level. The organisation does not recommend any travel or trade restriction at the moment, however, local restrictions on travel are in place. It is also important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will recommendations and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection.

While outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern, risk depends on exposure and both the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently considers the risk of attracting COVID-19 to be low for the general European and American public.

General advice and sources of information

Gard is guided by the views and recommendations issued by the WHO and other expert agencies in respect of this outbreak and advises Members and clients to remain vigilant. For the latest information and advice related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including an overview of countries with confirmed cases and current assessments of risk, we recommend consulting websites of the:

In terms of advice for the maritime industry, the situation may change quickly and it can be difficult to maintain a full overview of port restrictions being enforced at any given time. While some organizations and companies, such as our correspondent Gulf Agency Company Ltd. and BIMCO (login is required but non-members can register for free), provide regular and useful updates on control measures implemented by countries and ports around the world:

  We strongly recommend that ship operators and masters stay in close contact with local port authorities and ships’ agents to obtain the most up to date and reliable information about the type of quarantine measures in force in a given port.  

 

Below you can find an overview of some key issues and advice that may assist ship operators, masters and crews to stay alert, strengthen self-protection and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What we know about COVID-19

  • It is a respiratory disease.
  • Fever, sore throat, cough, chest pain and breathing difficulties are reported as the main symptoms.
  • The disease appears to be mild in many cases. However, the virus has the potential to cause severe illness and death, with persons with underlying health conditions possibly at a higher risk.
  • While the original source of this outbreak is likely an animal, human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
  • As with colds and influenza in general, transmission occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The likelihood of asymptomatic transmission is still under investigation.
  • It is still not known how long the virus survives on surfaces, although preliminary information suggests the virus may survive a few hours or more. Simple disinfectants can kill the virus making it no longer possible to infect people.
  • There is no confirmed information about incubation time, but it is estimated to be between 1 to 14 days.
  • There is no vaccine or specific treatment for the disease. Infected persons should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.
  • Since this is a virus, antibiotics should not be uses as a means of prevention or initial treatment.

Situation in Chinese ports

According to local sources, no Chinese seaports have officially announced a lockdown, except for the inland river port of Wuhan, though domestic traffic seems to be operating there. Ports have implemented strict prevention and control measures, such as declarations of crews’ health condition prior to ships’ entry, monitoring of crewmembers’ body temperature, gangway checks of people attending from ashore, restrictions on crew change, restricting shore leaves, requirement for crew to wear masks, etc. If there are any Chinese crewmembers on board, local authorities may ask if the crew member has visited Hubei Province or made close physical contact with anyone from Hubei Province in the past few weeks.

Oasis P&I has provided an update on the situation in China as at 19 February 2020. However, the measures taken at different ports can change quickly depending on development of the situation and even at the same port, different requirements may be in place at different terminals. We therefore strongly recommend that ship operators and masters check with their local agents to obtain up-to-date information in advance of calling at Chinese ports. Websites of regional Maritime Safety Authorities (MSA), such as Shanghai MSA and Shandong MSA may also be useful sources of information for owners and managers.

It is also worth noting that additional port control measures may adversely impact the rate of loading and discharging operations leading to delays. Besides seaports, there are strict restrictions on the land side in China such as lockdown of some cities and stoppage of public transport operations. As a result, ship operators could face operational issues, such as arranging for surveyors, service engineers and supplies, or even delays in port operations, due to labour shortage. Our correspondent Huatai Insurance Agency has compiled a summary of recent cases relating to COVID-19 exemplifying how crew illness  disrupted ship operations.

Situation in ports outside China

Port authorities world-wide are now in a heightened state of alert in order to identify crewmembers and passengers displaying symptoms of COVID-19. At the time of writing, ships that recently departed China, as well as ships with crews or passengers recently joining from China, are likely to be subject to additional restrictions during their subsequent port calls. However, countries may expand their entry restrictions at short notice. As an example, on 6 February 2020 the UK Government decided to expand the clinical definition of COVID-19 previously limited to persons arriving from or traveling through mainland China in the previous 14 days to also include Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Port authorities will commonly require all ships to proactively report any suspect or actual illness cases to local health authorities after arrival, e.g. by completing and delivering the Maritime Declaration of Health as per Annex 8 of the International Health Regulations (IHR). In some countries, ships’ masters may also be required to complete a special questionnaire tailored to the COVID-19 outbreak, typically with questions concerning crews’ and passengers’ recent travel itineraries and contacts.

Many countries have already implemented some sort of entry restrictions for persons that have a travel history to China in the previous 14 days and that apply to ships’ crewmembers as well. One example is Singapore. The Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has also implemented temperature screening of passengers and crewmembers at all sea checkpoints. In addition, the MPA urges all ship masters to carry out daily health checks of their crews, including temperature-taking and checking for respiratory symptoms. Despite implementation of enhanced screening measures, the MPA on 12 February 2020 emphasises that there are no restrictions to shipping activities: “Ships can continue to berth at terminals to carry out operations”.

While the details of and deadlines for undertaking pre arrival reporting of human health onboard will differ from one port to another, most ports and coastal states require a declaration on any of the following:

  • Declaration on health.
  • Temperature measurements.
  • Information on sick or deceased crew or passengers.
  • Information on previous port calls.
  • Information on crew or passengers’ travel history, i.e. if they have been in China within the previous 14 days as a minimum.

The consequences depend very much on the port state and ranges from quarantine of individual crew members or passengers to quarantine of the ship until the expected incubation period of 14 days has passed. In Australia for example, ships arriving from mainland China are subject to special restrictions while at berth. During the period lasting until 14 days has elapsed since the ship or any people onboard left mainland China, crews are only able to disembark to conduct essential ship functions and must wear personal protective equipment while performing these functions.

Similar restrictions apply to cargo ships and crews arriving at ports in the United States (US). In addition, the US Coast Guard states that passenger ships, or any ship carrying passengers, that have been to China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, within the last 14 days, will be denied entry into the US until all passengers exceed 14 days since being in China and are symptom free.

While there is no common definition of how to calculate the common 14-day quarantine period, the period will typically commence at pilot away time in China which will be the last time the crew of a ship will have interacted with a person from China.

We do emphasise that the above are only examples of port control measures currently being enforced. Other countries, such as Bangladesh, may also have established designated quarantine anchorages exclusively for ships arriving from China directly or via intermediate ports. Some may also impose restrictions on landing of garbage if a ship has visited areas with ongoing transmission or has reported an ill person onboard. This is why it is so important to stay in close contact with local port authorities and ships’ agents to obtain the most up to date and reliable information about the type of quarantine measures in force in a given port.

It is also worth noting that illness of a person onboard a ship that may adversely affect the safety of a ship or port facility could be considered a ‘reportable hazardous condition’ and ships that do not accurately report the health condition of crew members may therefore be penalised.

Onboard preventive measures

It is very important to raise the awareness amongst crew members so that they are aware of the risks, how the virus can be spread, and precautions to be taken. The IMO has provided some advice for seafarers and shipping. Many Flag States have also highlighted the importance of ensuring seafarers are properly informed, such as the Directorate General of Shipping in India. In general, ships’ crews are recommended to:

  • Cooperate fully with the port health authorities and make an honest disclosure of the crew health onboard.
  • Practice good hygiene. Some of the good practices mentioned by the WHO are:
    • Wash hands frequently and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
    • Practice respiratory hygiene (cover coughs and sneezes with flexed elbow or tissue, discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and wash hands).
    • Maintain social distancing. Keep at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.
    • If you have a cough and fever, use a surgical mask, avoid close contact with others and seek medical help early.
    • Practise food safety, such as by cooking the food items thoroughly.
  • When calling ports in China and other areas with ongoing transmission:
    • Reduce ship-shore activities by reducing ship-shore exchanges, boarding inspections, internal audits, external audits, maintenance and other activities. Unnecessary boarding visits should be prohibited.
    • Strengthen gangway or ladder control by implementing stricter ISPS procedures. It would include enhancing the stairway control, checking the credentials of all personnel boarding the ship, and checking their temperatures and logging it. If any shore personnel are suspected to have flu like symptoms access should be denied.
    • Restrict entry of agents, tally, foremen, suppliers and other foreign personnel into the crew living area to reduce contact between ship and shore personnel.
    • Strengthen self-prevention, e.g. by wearing surgical masks, and not interacting with others onboard or ashore if there are flu like symptoms.
    • Maintain good hygiene in accommodation areas, e.g. by frequently cleaning desks, door handles, switches, telephones, etc.
    • Restrict shore leaves in ports.
    • After departure from port, report any occurring symptoms immediately to the person in charge of medical care onboard.

Onboard mitigating measures

In the event of a suspected diagnosis of COVID-19 onboard a ship, seek immediate expert medical opinion. The master should report the event as soon as possible to the next port of call, to allow the competent authority at the port to arrange, depending on the situation, medical evacuation or special arrangements for disembarkation and hospitalization of the patient and laboratory diagnosis.

In addition, consider implementing the following measures onboard the ship as soon as a crew member or passenger shows symptoms compatible with the disease:

  • Keep the patient’s cabin doors closed, if not placed in a medical isolation room on board.
  • To contain respiratory secretions, a surgical mask should be provided to the patient and worn as much as possible.
  • Provide information about the risk of disease transmission to persons who will take care of the patient or enter the isolation area and limit the number of such persons.
  • Maintain a log listing everybody who enter the cabin.
  • Anyone who enters the cabin to provide care to the person in isolation or to clean the cabin must wear appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). A surgical mask is particularly important, as is the use of disposable gloves.
  • Gloves, masks and other waste generated during health care of the patient should be placed in a waste bin with lid in the patient’s room before disposal as ‘infection waste’.
  • Limit the movement and transport of the patient from the cabin for essential purposes only. If transport is necessary, the patient should wear a surgical mask and any surfaces touched by the patient should be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Start case investigation immediately. Wear appropriate PPE when interviewing the patient and keep a distance of at least 1 meter.
  • Identify the patient’s close contacts and ask them to do passive self-monitoring of any symptoms.

All measures implemented onboard should be recorded on the Ship Sanitation Control Certificate (IHR Annex 3).

Ship operators in the process of establishing onboard procedures for taking care of a suspected diagnosis of COVID-19 onboard may also want to consult WHO’s guidance on home care for patients with suspected novel coronavirus infection for more detailed advice.

Additional advice

We advise all Members and clients to pay special attention to and follow national and international Governments’ travel advice when planning crew changes as countries may  expand their entry restrictions on short notice. IATA’s dedicated webpage also provides useful information.

For advice related to charterparty issues, please refer to our Insight “COVID-19 - the effect of this public health emergency on charterparty terms” of 13 February 2020. In addition, we strongly recommend that you obtain expert maritime legal advice on how COVID-19 affects your rights and obligations whether under a charterparty or otherwise at law

We would like to thank Huatai Insurance Agency & Consultant Service Ltd., our correspondent, and Oasis P&I Services Company Ltd. for their contribution to this alert. We are also grateful to Gulf Agency Company Ltd. and BIMCO for providing regular updates on implementation measures taken by port states and port authorities around the world.