Updated 6 January 2022
There are still a high number of COVID cases affecting crews and others on board ships, and many ports and countries continue to operate with changing restrictions and regulations, which differ from place to place.
We encourage ship operators to follow the evolution of the outbreak and the areas affected by COVID-19 at a given time, continue to promote vaccination and compliance with proven health measures such as use of masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene, and review their crew change management plans and implement all relevant recommendations set out in the revised IMO supported protocols for crew changes and travel.
On the positive side, the Neptune Declaration's crew change tracker reports that seafarer vaccinations are progressing with vaccine programs being established in numerous countries to offer vaccines to international seafarers. Information on countries offering vaccines for seafarers is provided by the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) and the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA). However, the roll-out of vaccination programs still varies enormously from country to country and it may take years before most of the global population, including seafarers, 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 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.
Other guidelines tailored for the maritime industry
Ship operators and masters in process of establishing onboard contingency procedures are also advised to consult the following guidelines:
|Legal, liability and insurance issues arising from vaccination of seafarers
|Roadmap for vaccination of international seafarers
|Seafarer Shore Leave Principles|
It is very important ensure crew members are aware of the risks associated with COVID-19, such as how the virus can be spread and its early symptoms, precautions to be taken, as well as the myths surrounding the virus. For this, we recommend consulting the WHO’s websites:
COVID-19 and the insurance cover
It is not always easy for our Members to differentiate between operational expenses and recoverable insured costs. In this article we summarize here the key elements of cover and guidance on the best practices for preparing claims documentation.
P&I clubs have started to receive numerous queries in relation to COVID-19 vaccination of seafarers onboard ships. In this FAQ, the International Group of P&I Clubs answers questions that are frequently asked about the P&I cover in relation to the vaccination of seafarers.
Since its beginning, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of global commerce and continues to evolve daily. As a result, Members have raised many questions concerning Club cover. While every case will depend on its specific facts, this article identifies the heads of cover most likely implicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide guidance to Members on the most frequently asked questions.
Other Gard material
China’s zero-tolerance for COVID-19 and stringent border control continue to have serious consequences for crews and ships calling at the country’s ports - particularly if crew members have tested positive for COVID-19. While each case must be solved on its own merits, we provide some general advice that may be useful when dealing with COVID-19 situations in Chinese ports.
During the last week of 2021, about 200 of the approximately 500 pilots of China’s Yangtze River Pilot Center were reported to have been quarantined for COVID-19 by the Chinese authorities. In this article, we take a look at Members' legal risks in connection with delays caused by a shortage of local pilots.
Norwegian Cruise Lines succeeded in the US District Court in enjoining the application of a Florida statute prohibiting Florida businesses from requiring patrons to document they have been vaccinated as a condition of service.
Alice Amundsen heads up Gard’s global People claims area. This group is responsible for handling the thousands of crew claims received each year from Gard’s membership. We caught up with her to share some of her insights which provide a snapshot of Gard’s experience to date with the Covid crew crisis and the challenges moving forward with crew vaccination.
Antigen tests offer multiple operational benefits compared to PCR-tests. They can provide results in minutes, are relatively inexpensive, and are also supplied as complete test kits for near-patient use, which means that the analysis with visual readout of the result can also be performed onboard ships. In this article, we discuss some of the issues to be aware of in order to safely use antigen tests onboard ships.
The Covid-19 pandemic creates new challenges, fears and uncertainties for all diabetics, including seafarers. While they are no more susceptible to Covid-19 than the general population, it seems that diabetics (both types) have higher risks of developing serious complications or even dying from the virus. In conjunction with the UN World Diabetes Day, we join the effort to raise awareness among our readers of the risks associated with the disease and how diabetes can be managed during this pandemic.
Watch a recording of our one-hour webinar focusing on the legal and practical issues that owners and charterers face when dealing with crew changes in this difficult and uncertain environment - and read our experts’ response to the many important and relevant questions posed by the webinar attendees.
While access to coronavirus testing for seafarers is now becoming more widely available, ship operators should bear in mind that no test is 100% accurate. As explained by Dr. Ingrid H. Johansen, a two-week quarantine for on-signing crew at the place of embarkation should still be the primary measure to prevent infected seafarers from joining a ship.
Gard receives many questions about the use of tests and has sought the assistance and expertise of doctors at the Norwegian Centre for Maritime and Diving Medicine to help answer some of the questions.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the global population, it is important that ships’ crew and port workers protect each other from being exposed to the virus.
We are facing unprecedented worldwide lockdown and severe travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several thousand seafarers have been asked to extend their contracts beyond their usual tour of duty. Kunal Pathak, Loss Prevention Manager in Gard’s Singapore office, writes about maintaining the mental wellness of the seafarers during the current challenging times. Kunal is a Master Mariner and has particular insight into life at sea as he sailed for twelve years on oil tankers and bulk carriers.
A number of government agencies, industry stakeholders and medical experts have now published guidelines providing support to operators and crews on how to manage suspect COVID-19 cases onboard ships. In this article we summarise some their key recommendations.
We list the key issues as well as provide advice which may assist ship operators, masters and crew to stay alert, strengthen self-protection and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic often lead malicious cyber actors to take advantage through various malicious methods. In this article we discuss how to incorporate measures that deal with cyber risks into ships’ safety management systems (SMS) and undertake crew awareness training.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the maritime industry in previously unthinkable ways and some owners and operators may be forced to consider placing vessels in lay-up. As far as insurance is concerned, lay-up constitutes an alteration of risk, and owners are advised to notify us early in the planning of an upcoming lay-up period for a vessel.
One of the frequent questions coming to Gard Defence Lawyers is whether the COVID-19 pandemic falls within the various charterparty force majeure clauses. We are grateful to Brian Perrott, partner with HFW, and his colleagues for sharing their views.
In this article we try to identify some of the questions which are likely to arise and address them from the point of view of the shipowner in his relations with his charterer.
COVID-19 Posters for ships
Good hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to avoid any type of infection through the spread of germs. Our hands touch numerous surfaces in the course of the day which exposes them to various germs. These germs can enter our bodies and spread serious or fatal infections.
In an effort to assist in the maritime industry, in particular to protect seafarers and visitors onboard ships, BIMCO is providing free posters in black and white to be printed and used onboard at the following suggested locations:
We are grateful to BIMCO for their kind permission to reproduce these posters.