The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is described as the greatest global shock in decades. Millions of lives have been lost, and the world’s economy likely faces the worst recession since the 1930s. The international shipping industry, which is responsible for around 90% of world trade, is no exception and has also been severely affected.
These are challenging times, for the maritime industry and the society at large. Seafarers in international trade are constantly facing the risk of being infected by COVID-19 and measures implemented by some countries to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 bring serious operational consequences for ships and crews. Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult to effect crew-change on ships. Ports around the world are denying entry to certain ships and accessing healthcare ashore when needed is challenging. Supply chain disruptions, shortage of workforce and implementation of social distancing measures in ports and shipyards are causing delays.
Ona positive note, several effective COVID-19 vaccines have now been approved and bring renewed hope for the pandemic to finally come to an end. However, it has also become clear that the production and distribution of vaccines are complex processes that will take time. The roll-out of vaccination programs varies enormously from country to country and it may take years before most of the global population has been vaccinated. In the meantime, basic public health measures remain the foundation of the world’s response. For public health authorities this means testing, contact tracing, isolation, supported quarantine and quality care. For individuals it means avoiding crowds, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and masks. For the shipping industry, it means continuing restrictions on travel and port operations resulting in sustained challenges relating to crew changes, repatriation of sick crew and concerns for the wellbeing of seafarers.
Below we have provided links to some relevant websites and guidelines that may assist ship operators, masters, and crews to stay alert and prepare and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. An overview of Gard’s relevant loss prevention material is also included.
We would, however, like to emphasise that Gard is guided by the views and recommendations issued by the WHO, IMO, flag states, and other expert agencies in respect of this pandemic. As the situation evolves, so will recommendations and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection and we advise Members and clients to remain vigilant.
For the latest official information and advice related to the COVID-19 outbreak, we recommend consulting the following organizations’ websites dedicated to COVID-19:
We strongly recommend that ship operators and masters, well in advance of arriving at any port, seek guidance from local port authorities and ships’ agents on restrictions and other preventive measures currently in effect. However, the following sources of information may be useful when assessing the situation:
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has established a website dedicated to COVID-19 with advice for IMO Member States, seafarers and shipping: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers. This has led to a growing humanitarian crisis as well as significant concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping in general. IMO has intervened promptly by urging its Member States to designate seafarers as key workers, so they can travel between the ships that constitute their workplace, and their countries of residence. More recently, the IMO and other UN Organizations have also issued a joint statement to call on governments to prioritize seafarers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs. Ship operators are advised to pay particular attention to the following IMO recommendations:
As Governments around worldwide are implementing policies and measures to protect public health and address COVID-19, it is important that these are developed without the introduction of obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers and marine personnel. On 27 March 2020, the IMO circulated a Preliminary list of recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID-19 pandemic (Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6) addressing:
It is hoped that these recommendations, as fully supported by the International Group of P&I Clubs, assist Governments and their relevant national authorities to take a pragmatic and practical approach to the facilitation of shipping and port operations at this difficult time.
One of the many challenges facing international shipping during the COVID-19 pandemic has been arranging access for seafarers to medical care ashore. Prompt and efficient disembarkation of seafarers to receive medical care is essential for the protection of seafarers and public health, and vital for the maintenance of global supply chains. Circular Letter No. 4204/Add.23of 1 July 2020 summarises previous guidance published by the IMO on this issue and endorses a new set of the recommendations issued by a cross section of organisations representing the maritime transport sector and providing guidance to the relevant authorities in port and coastal States so they can ensure seafarers’ access to medical care.
Ship operators and masters in process of establishing onboard contingency procedures are also advised to consult the following guidelines:
| Legal, liability and insurance issues arising from vaccination of seafarers
It is very important ensure crew members are aware of the risks associated with COVID-19, such as how the virus can be spread and its early symptoms, precautions to be taken, as well as the myths surrounding the virus. For this, we recommend consulting the WHO’s websites:
To support medical officers onboard, Gard has financially sponsored the development of a simple online tool to aid the assessment and management of COVID-19 cases onboard ship. The webpage is aimed at officers who are responsible for medical treatment on board ships and mobile offshore units. Its aim is to help them assess and treat persons who might have Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Antigen tests offer multiple operational benefits compared to PCR-tests. They can provide results in minutes, are relatively inexpensive, and are also supplied as complete test kits for near-patient use, which means that the analysis with visual readout of the result can also be performed onboard ships. In this article, we discuss some of the issues to be aware of in order to safely use antigen tests onboard ships.
It is not always easy for our Members to differentiate between operational expenses and recoverable insured costs. The guidance provided in this article will hopefully help our Members to prepare re-imbursement claims that will save time and speed the turnaround of COVID-19 related cases.
The Covid-19 pandemic creates new challenges, fears and uncertainties for all diabetics, including seafarers. While they are no more susceptible to Covid-19 than the general population, it seems that diabetics (both types) have higher risks of developing serious complications or even dying from the virus. In conjunction with the UN World Diabetes Day, we join the effort to raise awareness among our readers of the risks associated with the disease and how diabetes can be managed during this pandemic.
Watch a recording of our one-hour webinar focusing on the legal and practical issues that owners and charterers face when dealing with crew changes in this difficult and uncertain environment - and read our experts’ response to the many important and relevant questions posed by the webinar attendees.
While access to coronavirus testing for seafarers is now becoming more widely available, ship operators should bear in mind that no test is 100% accurate. As explained by Dr. Ingrid H. Johansen, a two-week quarantine for on-signing crew at the place of embarkation should still be the primary measure to prevent infected seafarers from joining a ship.
Gard receives many questions about the use of tests and has sought the assistance and expertise of doctors at the Norwegian Centre for Maritime and Diving Medicine to help answer some of the questions.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the global population, it is important that ships’ crew and port workers protect each other from being exposed to the virus.
We are facing unprecedented worldwide lockdown and severe travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several thousand seafarers have been asked to extend their contracts beyond their usual tour of duty. Kunal Pathak, Loss Prevention Manager in Gard’s Singapore office, writes about maintaining the mental wellness of the seafarers during the current challenging times. Kunal is a Master Mariner and has particular insight into life at sea as he sailed for twelve years on oil tankers and bulk carriers.
As we have all seen over the past weeks, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted every aspect of global commerce and continues to evolve daily. As a result, Members have raised many questions concerning Club cover. While every case will depend on its specific facts, we identify below the heads of cover most likely implicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide guidance to Members on the most frequently asked questions.
A number of government agencies, industry stakeholders and medical experts have now published guidelines providing support to operators and crews on how to manage suspect COVID-19 cases onboard ships. In this article we summarise some their key recommendations.
We list the key issues as well as provide advice which may assist ship operators, masters and crew to stay alert, strengthen self-protection and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic often lead malicious cyber actors to take advantage through various malicious methods. In this article we discuss how to incorporate measures that deal with cyber risks into ships’ safety management systems (SMS) and undertake crew awareness training.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the maritime industry in previously unthinkable ways and some owners and operators may be forced to consider placing vessels in lay-up. As far as insurance is concerned, lay-up constitutes an alteration of risk, and owners are advised to notify us early in the planning of an upcoming lay-up period for a vessel.
One of the frequent questions coming to Gard Defence Lawyers is whether the COVID-19 pandemic falls within the various charterparty force majeure clauses. We are grateful to Brian Perrott, partner with HFW, and his colleagues for sharing their views.
In this article we try to identify some of the questions which are likely to arise and address them from the point of view of the shipowner in his relations with his charterer.
In an effort to assist in the maritime industry, in particular to protect seafarers and visitors onboard ships, BIMCO is providing free posters in black and white to be printed and used onboard at the following suggested locations:
We are grateful to BIMCO for their kind permission to reproduce these posters.