In response to the Chinese authorities having identified a cluster of novel Coronavirus in Wuhan City, China, the WHO, in a statement issued on 23 January 2020, said that the outbreak does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) at this stage, but would review the situation in a matter of days. At the same time, the WHO assessed the public health risk of this event to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level. Please refer to the WHO’s latest situation report for its most current risk assessment.
Current port situation
Chinese officials have now closed transport within and out of Wuhan, China and we have been informed that all operations in Wuhan port have been suspended. Transport in and out of some other Chinese cities has also been suspended and at the time of writing, the general travel advice from various national authorities is to avoid all non-essential travel to affected areas.
If the spread of the virus continues, ship operators may see similar issues arising as we have seen with previous severe disease outbreaks. In addition to the risk of crew members contracting the illness at ports in infected areas, port authorities may require ships that have previously called at infected ports to comply with additional reporting and quarantine measures to prevent the further spread of the disease. And as we have seen in the most severe cases of outbreaks, ports may be closed altogether.
We recommend monitoring the situation by consulting webpages maintained by the WHO and other public health authorities and evaluate the risks present in the next port of call.
Members and clients should consider the following recommendations and pass such on to their vessels:
Information on charterparty issues as a result of disease outbreaks can be found in our Insight “Charterparty clauses dealing with risks from Ebola and other diseases at ports of call”. This was published during an earlier Ebola outbreak. Given the current situation, we believe members and clients may find some of the information useful.
Practical recommendations for ships
In the event of a suspected diagnosis of Coronavirus infection on 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 a 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 list of measures onboard the ship when a crew member or passenger shows symptoms compatible with the disease (fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath):
At the request of a governmental port health authority, it may be necessary to provide information on passengers’ itinerary and their contact details. Ships may also have to complete and deliver the Maritime Declaration of Health (IHR Annex 8). Measures taken on board should be noted on the IHR Ship sanitation control certificate (IHR Annex 3).
Relevant sources of information