Updated 24 March 2020
Countries around the world are strengthening their border control measures in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and port authorities continue to be in a heightened state of alert in order to identify crew members or passengers displaying symptoms compatible with the disease.
About the outbreak
The ongoing outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that was first detected in Hubei Province, China in December 2019 has now spread across all continents, except Antarctica, and the number of confirmed cases continue to rise with increasing pace. The number of confirmed cases outside of China has surpassed the Chinese total and Europe is currently at the epicentre of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 at a global level to be very high.
General advice and sources of information
At the time of writing, the WHO continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. However, local restrictions on travel are in place and some of the measures implemented in order to minimise the risk of infection can have serious consequences for ships and crews, including delayed port clearance, obstruction of cargo operations, limited access to surveyors, service engineers and supplies, restrictions on shore leaves and crew changes, and, in the extreme case, imposition of quarantine or refusal of port entry.
In terms of concrete geographical advice for the maritime industry, the situation may change quickly and it can be difficult to maintain a full overview of areas affected by the outbreak as well as port and travel restrictions being enforced at any given time. The WHO is publishing daily situation reports on the evolution of the outbreak and ‘affected areas’ are those countries, provinces, territories or cities experiencing ongoing local transmission of COVID-19, in contrast to areas reporting only imported cases. Some organizations and companies, such as our correspondent Gulf Agency Company Ltd. and BIMCO, also provide regular and useful updates on control measures implemented by countries and ports around the world.
|We further 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.|
We would also like to emphasise that Gard is guided by the views and recommendations issued by the WHO, IMO and other expert agencies in respect of this outbreak. As the situation evolves, so will recommendations and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection and we advises Members and clients to remain vigilant.
|Our website “Covid-19 (Coronavirus)” provides links to relevant information and guidance from the WHO and other official sources of information. You will also find links to a number of guidelines and recommendations tailored for ship operators and crews on how to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.|
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
The following information has been taken from the WHO Q&A on COVID-19 as updated on 9 March 2020:
Port authorities world-wide are now in a heightened state of alert in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. 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 in accordance with 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. Some are also requiring ship masters to carry out daily health checks of their crews, including temperature-taking and checking for respiratory symptoms.
While the details of and deadlines for undertaking pre arrival reporting of human health onboard, as well as the definition of ‘affected areas’, will differ from one port to another, most ports and coastal states require a declaration on any of the following:
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 the United States (US) for example, non-passenger ships that have been to an affected area within the last 14 days, with no sick crewmembers, will be permitted to enter and conduct normal operations, provided that crewmembers remain aboard the vessel except to conduct specific activities directly related to vessel cargo. Similar requirements apply to ships berthing in Australia, and crews are also required to wear medical masks while performing essential ship functions ashore.
While there is no common definition of how to calculate the 14-day quarantine period, the period will typically commence at pilot away time in the affected area which will be the last time the crew of a ship will have interacted with a person from that area.
We do emphasise that the above are only examples of port control measures currently being enforced. Some countries may have established designated quarantine anchorages exclusively for ships arriving from affected areas or via intermediate ports, others may also impose restrictions on landing of garbage if a ship has visited affected areas 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, so have flag states world-wide. In summary, ships’ crews are recommended to:
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.
While more detailed advice is provided in our publication “Managing COVID-19 cases onboard”, here is a summary of measures that should be considered implemented as soon as a crew member or passenger shows symptoms compatible with the disease:
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. In order to better understand how to detect, prevent, respond to and control the new coronavirus, we also recommend enrolling in WHO’s open online training courses on COVID-19.
Compliance with statutory and class requirements
Ships may face challenges in meeting applicable statutory requirements under various international conventions, such as inability to renew ships’ or crews’ formal certificates; unable to obtain dry docking services; and unable to timely repatriate seafarers. To contain the spread of the virus, classification societies are also limiting their activities at the moment and may not be able to respond to survey requests. Many flag states have already clarified that extensions will be granted in certain cases, however, in all such cases, ship operators are advised to approach the flag state and/or classification society of the ship.
As many countries and ports are now imposing prohibitions on shore leave and crew changes, ship operators and masters may find themselves in a situation where new operational conditions force them to reassess the ship’s minimum safe manning, extend individual seafarers’ contracts and temporarily set aside provisions relating to hours of work and rest. Some flag states, such as Norway and the UK, have clarified their position on how to handle the current extraordinary manning situation caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, we would like to emphasise that all decisions affecting ships’ safe manning documents and crews’ working hours must be based on a thorough risk assessment of the current situation and the ship’s changed operational conditions and taken in agreement with the flag state in question. We also recommend such risk assessments are carried out in consultation with the ships’ crews to determine that any extensions on working time is such that the individual seafarer will not be subject to unfortunate physical or mental burdens.
We advise all Members and clients to pay special attention to and follow national and international travel advice when planning crew changes as countries may change their entry restrictions on short notice. IATA’s dedicated webpage provides useful information, so does BIMCO’s website “Coronavirus (COVID-19) - crew challenges”. Prior to doing a crew change, it is also advisable to check the travel history of the on-signer.
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 are 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.