Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Coronavirus

Updated:

Coronavirus virus originating in Wuhan China and possible worldwide pandemic (illustration)
Credit to: OSORIOartist / Shutterstock.com

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 has in the meantime over two years into the pandemic, spread to all the five continents with most of the 195 countries worldwide being affected.

Below is a short overview of some of the strict measures which countries have implemented to reduce the exposure and transmission of COVID-19 and its variants to their citizens, and which do have an impact on shipping.

The current situation in China

Mainland China

China still has strict measures in place regulating crew changes in Chinese ports to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus mutations, especially the Omicron variant.

If special circumstances exist, which make a crew change of non-Chinese nationals in Chinese ports necessary, it is recommended that Members contact their local agent as early as possible for an update on the latest quarantine and testing requirements.

We enclose the Circular no. 2206 received on 19 July 2022 from Messrs. Oasis giving an update about the latest Covid-19 restrictions in China.

* Oasis Circular 2206: An update on latest Covid-19 restrictions in China

We also link the last update received from our local correspondents Messrs. Huatai Marine on the updated local policy for crew changes of Chinese and non-Chinese crew at Chinese ports.

* Huatai Marine Circular Ref. No.: PNI [2022] 02 (dd. March 7th, 2022)

The disembarkation of sick or injured crew is as per our information in most cases 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.

Circular no. 2201 from Messrs. Oasis gives an update on Covid-19 testing requirements if Members plan a crew change in China. We want to point out that arranging for a crew change in China is still exceptionally difficult unless the crew are Chinese nationals.

* Oasis Circular 2201: An update on Covid-19 testing requirements for vessels that plan to arrange crew change in China

 

Hong Kong

Considering the ongoing spread of different Covid-19 variants worldwide, authorities in Hong Kong have tightened measures to avoid the rise of particularly Omicron cases locally. We ask members to please read through the linked documents informing about boarding and quarantine arrangements before arranging air travel to Hong Kong.

A) Crew wanting to come off vessels:
It may prove difficult for the Members to arrange for a crew change in Hong Kong due to tightened measures and local lockdowns which can be implemented almost suddenly by local authorities without any prewarning. Members are therefore advised to liaise closely with local agents if they need to facilitate a crew change as the situation can change quickly.

B) Crew arriving Hong Kong via Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA):
Members are encouraged to check the websites of the Hong Kong International Airport for inbound travel and quarantine restrictions.

* HKIA – Hong Kong International Airport – all COVID-19 updates

* HKIA - Points to Note for Quarantine for Inbound Travellers

* HKIA - Testing and self-isolation arrangement for air crew, sea crew and other exempted persons - Frequently Asked Questions

The current situation outside China

United States of America

Whilst the USA allow global travel, Members are encouraged to check the requirements put into place by the US Center of Disease Control (CDC).

The previous mandate to wear masks while boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel on commercial ships that were bound for the US and that traded in waters under US jurisdiction was lifted by the CDC in April 2022.

The relevant bulletin of the US Coast Guards is the following:

* USCG Marine Safety Information Bulletin 02-21 CH-5

The USA allow crew change, but there are entry requirements in place for crew arriving to the USA by airplane. Proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with a vaccine approved by the CDC, is a mandatory entry requirement for non-US citizens or non-immigrant passengers travelling to the United States from a foreign country by air.

* Pre-departure testing requirements for air travellers to the US was lifted effective 12 June 2022.

* USCG Marine Safety Information Bulletin 04-21 - Covid-19 Crew Change Issues

* US Department of State - New Requirements for Air Travelers to the US

* CDC - Requirement for Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers

Members may also find the following two website articles of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be useful:

* CDC Interim Guidance for Ships on Managing Suspected or Confirmed Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

* CDC COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel

Europe

Despite of the high number of Omicron infections throughout the European continent, most EU countries have eased their local restrictions. In general, entry into the EU countries has become easier for travellers that have been fully inoculated by vaccines approved by the EU.

More details can be found on the following webpages:

* COVID-19: travel into the EU

* Re-open EU

* EU Members States travel advice

The entry restrictions of each of the EFTA member countries currently in place can be found via the webpage of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

EU Travel and Transportation during the coronavirus pandemic

The following websites may also be of interest to our members:

EMSA COVID-19 Measures

* European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

* COVID-19: EU Guidance for Cruise Ship Operations

* EU Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships

South Africa

The South African Government repealed on 22 June 2022, several COVID-19 regulations relating to the wearing of face masks, gatherings and persons entering the country.

For more information we refer our members to the webpage of the South African Government:

* Travel – Coronavirus COVID-19

Further information can be found on the following websites:

* South Africa Maritime Safety Authority – Vaccination of foreign seafarers in South African Ports

* South African Maritime Safety Authority - COVID-19 Level 1: Seafarer Crew Changes

Singapore

The Maritime and Port Authority Singapore (MPA) announced on 29 June 2022 that with effect 1 July 2022, a revision of the requirements for the submission of Maritime Declaration of Health (MDH) for vessels arriving in the Port of Singapore. Details of the new requirements are listed in the Port Marine Circular no. 15 of 2022 as linked below.

* MPA PC22-15

The MPA has also revised the requirements for crew change on cargo ships as well as the application for COVID-19 vaccination in the port of Singapore. These new requirements, are published in the Port Marine Circular no. 14 of 2022. Crew change of fully vaccinated crew is a smooth operation. For more details we like to refer our Members to the following circular:

MPA PC22-14

* MPA Port Marine Circular no. 04 of 2022 – Requirements for vessels arriving in the port of Singapore during Covid-19

* Singapore Crew Change Guidebook

Australia

Australia's border requirements have changed from 6 July 2022. All travellers should be aware that:

  • People entering Australia do not need to provide evidence of vaccination status
  • People entering Australia do not need to complete the Digital Passenger Declaration or Maritime Travel Declaration
  • People leaving Australia will not be asked to provide evidence of their vaccination status
  • Unvaccinated visa holders do not​ need a travel exemption to travel to Australia
  • Masks are still required on flights travelling to Australia
  • It is important to remember that airlines, vessel operators and other countries may have specific requirements that travellers need to comply with.

More information can be found on the following webpages of the Australian Government:

Entering and leaving Australia

* Australian Government

* Australian Government – Department of Health and Aged Care

New Zealand

New Zealand opened its international border for eligible travellers. Most border exceptions phased out from 31 July 2022. For more details we would like to refer our members to the websites of the New Zealand Government as linked below:

* Reopening the New Zealand border

* New Zealand Immigration

Ports worldwide

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.

* BIMCO is opening the port information section on its website with the aim to assist the industry

* IATA: Air Travel Centre – List of countries imposing entry restrictions

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 most countries are now allowing the movement of crew through their ports and airports as many countries have dropped their COVID-19 restrictions.

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 recommends turning to the very helpful information and support provided by International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) on mental health and how to deal with the pandemic.

* ISWAN: The Seafarers' Health Information Programme

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 also wants to encourage members to have Skuld's 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: Practical information on Covid-19 vaccinations for seafarers

* ICS: Handling a Mental Health Crisis or Emergency and Spotting Suicidal Behaviour in Seafarers

* IMO: Focus on Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

* WHO: Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases and outbreaks on board ships

As the situation remains to be very fluid due to virus variants developing, members are recommended to stay in close contact with local agents about any requirements imposed by local authorities, as those can change quickly.

Chartering issues

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.

General comments

In addition, we recommend members to turn to the following webpages for additional information:

* WHO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

* WHO: Daily situation reports (listing all countries with confirmed cases)

* 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