By *Mrs Mary Pothitos
PART I – Practical considerations
The current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a significant challenge for the entire world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) determined that the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have joined forces and issued a joint- statement in ensuring that health measures are implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
P&I Clubs have published information and are in close contact with their correspondents for constant update as it develops.
Shipmanagement companies are now called to implement a plan for disease outbreak management, focused on containing the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating possible health, economic and social impacts.
In order to assist further the companies in preparedness and response to the public health threats of the virus, useful information and links of competent organisations is provided.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has prepared a series of awareness and training videos:
- Q&A: COVID-19 in the workplace
- How to protect yourself against COVID-19?
- How to protect yourself when travelling
- How to protect yourself and others
The organisation has also issued guidelines:
Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships
The target audience for this document is any authority involved in the public health response to a COVID-19 public health event on board a ship, including International Health Regulations (IHR) National Focal Points (NFPs), port health authorities, and local, provincial and national health surveillance and response systems, as well as port operators and ship operators.
The guidelines provide that ship owners should inform the crew about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 disease.
The graph below, published by Our World in Data clearly illustrates these signs
Activating the outbreak management plan according to the WHO guidelines
Obligations of ship owners
- the master of the ship must immediately inform the port health authority at the next port of call about any suspected case of COVID-19 disease
- For ships on an international voyage, the Maritime Declaration of Health should be completed and sent to the port authority in accordance with local requirements at the port of call.
- Ship owners must facilitate the use of health measures and provide all relevant public health information requested by the health authority at the port.
- Ship operators shall provide to the port health authorities all essential information
(that is, PLFs, the crew list, and the passenger list) to conduct contact tracing when a confirmed case of COVID-19 disease has been identified on board or when a traveller who has been on board and possibly was exposed during the voyage is diagnosed as a confirmed case after the end of the voyage.
Guidelines provide information on disembarkation of suspected cases and that healthcare staff on board ships should be informed and updated about the outbreak of COVID-19 disease and any new evidence and guidance.
WHO’s updated information is available at:
It is worth noting that WHO gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the WHO Collaborating Centre for The International Health Regulations: Points Of Entry at the University of Thessaly, Greece, for its help in developing the document.
Other useful guideline by World Health Organization –
Management of ill travellers at points of entry – international airports, ports and ground crossings – in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has issued earlier this month:
Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers
ICS has issued the document in collaboration with international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA).
The document offers advice on managing port entry restrictions, provides practical protective measures against Covid-19 for seafarers and provides guidance for an outbreak management plan.
Furthermore the advice is extended for pre-boarding screening, training, on hygiene measures for ship seafarers and includes suspected cases action plan.
It also includes posters that can be printed out.
In response to the 2019-nCoV novel coronavirus outbreak, a number of countries, ports and organisations have measures being put in place and as a consequence all major ports across the world have adopted a 14-day quarantine period for vessels arriving from or transiting through China.
Wilhelmsen have created an overview of port restrictions worldwide. The map will be updated on a daily basis https://wilhelmsen.com/ships-agency/campaigns/coronavirus/coronavirus-map/
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an agency of the European Union, has also published an interactive map with worldwide situation reported https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases
The Johns Hopkins University has set up the CORONAVIRUS RESOURCE CENTER https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/ This website is a resource to help advance the understanding of the virus, inform the public, and brief policymakers in order to guide a response, improve care, and save lives.
According to a case tracker that Johns Hopkins University manages, of the 156,400 cases across the globe, 73,968 people have recovered as of 15/3 morning. Johns Hopkins also publishes data on ‘recovered cases’ while the World Health Organization does not.
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, officials are urging the public in the absence of vaccines and specific treatment, discipline to the instructions issued by the competent authorities as early counter measures are important in an epidemic.
Apart from the operational problems as a result of the outbreak of coronavirus disease there are several legal issues that shipowners need to respond.
These will be covered on Part II by Mrs Ioanna Vita, partner in the marine, trade and International Shipping team of Penningtons Manches Cooper.
*Mrs Mary Pothitos is experienced Marine claims consultant and trainer, head of the Paralegal Maritime Services and a valuable member of Marasco Marine Ltd’s Board of Advisors.