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.
General information and advice
For the latest official information and advice related to the COVID-19 outbreak, we recommend consulting the following organizations’ websites dedicated to COVID-19:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
Geographical information and advice
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 WHO’s situation reports describe the evolution of the outbreak and the areas affected by COVID-19 at a given time. The organization has also established a dashboard displaying the cases reported each day. Its latest travel advice should also be consulted.
- The International Group of P&I Clubs has launched an online COVID-19 tracker to assist shipowners, charterers, operators and other parties in the maritime sector to track country and port specific advice around the world.
- Some industry organizations and companies, such as our correspondent Gulf Agency Company Ltd., the shipping company Wilhelmsen, and BIMCO, provide regular and useful updates on control measures implemented by countries and ports around the world.
Recommendations supported by the IMO
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:
- MSC.1/Circ.1636: Recommended Framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
- Circular Letter No.4204/Add.27: Protocols to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 cases on board ships.
- Circular Letter No.4204/Add.16: COVID-19 related guidelines for ensuring a safe shipboard interface between ship and shore-based personnel.
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:
- Ships’ access to berth in port
- Measures to facilitate crew changes in ports
- Measures to facilitate port (and related) operations
- Measures to ensure health protection in ports
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.