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.
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
Chinese authorities are quite hesitant to allow foreign crew into China in order to keep the numbers of new coronavirus infections from rising. As per our understanding it is nearly impossible to arrange for embarking and disembarking of non-Chinese seafarers. The Club would therefore recommend against a planned crew change of non-Chinese crew in Chinese ports. However, crew change of Chinese nationals is possible.
The disembarkation of sick or injured crew will as per our information most likely be approved by Chinese authorities. 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.
A) Connecting flights in Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA)
The Airport Authority has announced partial relaxation of transit in Hong Kong.
- WEF 1 June 2020 air transit/transfer services at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) only; transit/ transfer passengers who have been checked through at the origin port and take transit/transfer flights operated by the same airline group are accepted at HKIA. Passengers should confirm in advance that they are able to enter the final destination. Travellers should check with their airlines for details.
- The transit time should not exceed 8 hours.
Further relaxation can be expected, the HKIA website should be checked for further updates.
B) Unrestricted crew change in Hong Kong
Commencing 8 June 2020, the local government supports the industry by relaxing crew change, details can be found in the attached Notice issued by the HK Marine Department. Seatrade Maritime News reported this move as "unrestricted crew changes in Hong Kong", this refers to the exemption of 14 days' compulsory quarantine. The local agent and shipowners are obliged to arrange for the change in a reasonably efficient manner without causing the crew's extended stay in Hong Kong.
C) Seafarers seeking medical treatments in Hong Kong
As per clarification with Port Health of Marine Department a sick/ injured seafarer is allowed onshore for treatments with the production of a seaman passbook and passport. The seafarer should return to the vessel after visiting a doctor. Should continuous treatments be required including hospitalisation, a medical recommendation should be provided, so that the vessel can sail without the sick /injured crew onboard. Port Health suggests that prior communications are made via a local agent.
The current situation outside China
The USA have entry restrictions to non-US citizens or non-US residents arriving from China and Europe in place, which make crew changes challenging in US ports.
We received a comprehensive update setting out the different measures in place in various Central and Southern American countries from our South American P&I correspondents.
The EU countries have eased their entry restrictions that were in place to refuse entry to non-EU citizens or residents.
The entry restrictions of each of the EU of EFTA member countries currently in place can be found via the webpage of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
Singapore is allowing crew changes as per the following circulars:
* MPA Singapore – PMC no. 27 of 2020: Updated Requirements for Crew Change for Cargo Ships in the Port of Singapore, to minimize risk of community spread of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Singapore (Supplementary to PMC no. 26 of 2020)
* MPA Singapore – PMC no. 26 of 2020: Enhancement to Crew Change for Cargo Ships under Special Circumstances in the Port of Singapore, to minimize risk of community spread of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Singapore
On the right- hand side, we have linked the IGP&I COVID-19 (Coronavirus) restrictions - online tracker, a dashboard which includes a world map showing 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.
Also linked on the right-hand side is a need-to-know information database relating to crew change requirements which is maintained by our members Messrs. Wilhemsen. So far it contains information on Singapore, Brazil, Hong Kong and Gibraltar.
The data will be continuously updated with changes and new countries.
Also, Messrs. BIMCO are maintaining a list of countries in which crew changes can be arranged or are rather challenging.
Current situation for vessels' crews
Whilst regular crew change can still be 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, we see that a number of countries which are opening up to allow the movement of crew through their ports and airports.
If however, 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.
The guidance "COVID-19: Interface between ship and shore based personnel" aims to address major concerns and expectations of ship's crews and shore-based personnel through the implementation of practical, risk-based measures.
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: Focus on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
- 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.
Skuld has published "COVID-19: Charterparty matters for shipowners". This article first explores owners' rights to refuse to call at a port which is affected by the virus, before examining the rights, obligations and liabilities of owners under charterparties in the context of delays at loading and discharging ports.
Intertanko's publication "Guidance on Chartering Issues relating to Covid-19" is being shared here for Skuld members' benefit.
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.
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: Focus on 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