Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic and this announcement followed the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the WHO on 30 January 2020. Whilst the initial outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in Wuhan, China, the disease is now extending to all the five continents with most of the 195 countries worldwide being affected.
The number of reported cases is climbing rapidly. Many countries have implemented strict measures to reduce the exposure and transmission of COVID-19 to their citizens and which do have an impact on shipping.
The current situation in China
All Chinese ports remain open and fully operational, including the initially closed river port of Wuhan in the Hubei province which was the epicentre of the outbreak.
Since the number of new infections has been slowing down in China, the movement of Chinese crew and the movement of local surveyors within China has become much easier. However, authorities are quite hesitant to allow foreign crew into China and same is an attempt to curb the numbers of new Coronavirus infections. As per our understanding it is nearly impossible to arrange embarking and disembarking of non-Chinese seafarers. The Club would accordingly recommend against a planned crew change of non-Chinese crew in Chinese ports.
However, if a crew member becomes seriously ill or suffers from an injury or if there is any other emergency situation, the disembarkation will as per our information most likely be approved by Chinese governments. As the situation is quite fluid, Skuld recommends members to not only keep their claims handler advised, but also to closely liaise with local agents well before the vessel's arrival in case a sick or injured seafarer needs to be disembarked in a Chinese port. For more information we enclose updates from local club correspondents Messrs. Huatai and Shanghai P&I as well as from Oasis P&I Services.
The current situation outside China
Whilst the virus has meanwhile spread to almost all countries, there are currently certain clusters in which a higher number of COVID-19 cases are reported. The number of clusters is vastly increasing, spreading to Europe, North and South America.
To avoid the spread of the virus, the USA have issued entry restrictions to non-US citizens or non-US residents arriving from China and Europe and this makes crew changes challenging in US ports.
Europe has implemented a similar entry ban refusing entry to everyone who is not a citizen, permanent resident or family member of an EU or EFTA member state or the UK. The air traffic to and within Europe has been massively reduced which makes any crew change at an European port almost impossible.
Similar measures were imposed by Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
We also see more and more countries in South America now putting mirroring entry bans into force. These actions reflect a severe tightening of measures to fight the global spread of COVID-19, compared to the initially implemented 14 days quarantine period which many countries put in place against vessels arriving from countries in which high numbers of COVID-19 cases were reported.
In order to grant free pratique many ports now require to be provided with health declarations and records of the temperature taken of seafarers daily. Most countries have implemented mandatory screening of crew and passengers before they are allowed to leave the vessel, provided they are even allowed to disembark; and a strict declaration of anyone on board who is suspected to have contracted the coronavirus. Some countries do not allow crew or passengers who are suspected to carry the coronavirus to disembark.
In addition to entry bans, we have also seen countries like India and South Africa implementing a strict lockdown period. We receive reports from both countries that most of the ports are still operating despite the issuance of Force Majeure certificates, albeit at a much slower pace.
Looking ahead, we expect to see extended delay periods in ports and challenges with crew exchanges. It may be difficult to get sick crew disembarked, in cases that do not qualify to be a medical emergency, in countries which experience a high number of COVID-19 cases already having hospitals being stretched to their limits. Members are accordingly encouraged to involve the Club as early as possible on crew sickness and injury cases.
On the right- hand side, we have linked a webpage from Messrs. S5 Agency World and same include a world map which shows countries in which a normal crew change may still be possible. However, we need to point out that as the situation is very fluid, members are encouraged to always double-check the current situation with the local agents.
Current situation for vessels' crews
With these tightened measures implemented by countries, regular crew change has become a challenging task for shipowners, and same is the reason that several of our members are encouraging their crews to serve on board longer than their contractually agreed period.
If the seafarer agrees to extend their time on board under the crewing contract, it is the responsibility of the members to seek the necessary confirmation and approval of relevant authorities together with the extension of the validity of certificates, or if an extension cannot be obtained, the approval of an exception by the relevant authorities.
As for the Extended PEME programme, Skuld accepts that seafarers stay onboard beyond 12 months and as for maintaining the validity of their certificates in excess of the statutory required certificate they have, and which usually is valid for 24 months, the member is advised to contact the relevant authority. Should it be impossible obtain an extension whilst it is impossible to effect a crew change, then the crew cover will remain to be intact.
In order to help the seafarers to cope better with the prolonged stay on board, the focus on the wellbeing of crew should be increased. The Club has found useful information provided by International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) on mental health, including a video which addresses some of the queries voiced by seafarers.
- ISWAN video: Managing Your Mental Health During the Covid 19 Pandemic - A guide for seafarers
- ISWAN info page on mental health.
To avoid the spread of COVID-19 on board, members are encouraged to establish management plans together with their company doctors on how to handle the situation on board their vessels.
The Club wants to also encourage members to have Skuld's new COVID-19 safety awareness poster being displayed on entered vessels.
Further guidance about necessary hygienic standards as well as needed medical supplies can be found in the following documents and websites:
- ICS International Chamber of Shipping: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers (pdf)
- IMO: Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships
- WHO: Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases and outbreaks on board ships
- WHO: Handbook for management of public health events on board ships
- CDC: Interim Guidance for Ships on Managing Suspected Coronavirus Disease 2019
As the situation remains to be very fluid, members are recommended to stay in close contact with local agents about any requirements imposed by local authorities, as those can change quickly.
In addition, we recommend members to turn to the following webpages for information about the developing situation and for a current update on the number of countries with confirmed cases:
- WHO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- WHO: Daily situation reports (listing all countries with confirmed cases)
- WHO: Situation dashboard
- IMO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- EU/EEA and UK: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – COVID-19
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- John Hopkins University: COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) Dashboard
- IATA: Travel Centre – List of countries imposing entry restrictions
Skuld maintains its advice to members to get in touch with their claims handlers who can provide them with information tailored to their trade. Skuld also recommends to its members to get in touch with their claims handlers for any questions or concerns which might arise regarding charterparties.