February 25 ------ The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has sent a letter to its member states amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus asking them to undertake all possible measures to prevent unnecessary delays of ships. The IMO urged state authorities and control regimes, companies and shipmasters to cooperate to ensure that, where appropriate, passengers can be embarked and disembarked, cargo operations can occur, ships can enter and depart shipyards for repair and survey, stores and supplies can be loaded, certificates can be issued and crews can be exchanged. “The principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay on port entry to ships, persons and property on board are contained in articles I and V and section 6 of the annex to IMO’s Facilitation Convention,” IMO insisted.
The announcement comes as port authorities across the globe started implementing precautionary measures including quarantines and medical screenings of crews with the aim of curbing the virus spread. Port authorities are asking crews to submit a list of 5 to 10 last port calls before arriving at respective ports. A special attention is being given to ports from countries with confirmed coronavirus infections. The master also has to report if any of his crew members are experiencing symptoms matching the CONVID-19. In cases of reported illness on board, the ship in question must be boarded by sanitary and/or health officials to examine the affected crew members and take blood samples for medical testing.
Numerous port authorities, like Hai Phong and Quang Ninh Port Authority in Vietnam, are resorting to quarantines of ships whose crew might be experiencing a fever or other symptoms of illness. Such vessels are being put under a two-week quarantine before being allowed to dock. Disembarkations in such cases have been banned, and Vietnam, like many other countries has banned crew changes for the time being. The said measures are causing delays and additional pressure on the crews of the vessels. “In the context of the evolving coronavirus outbreak, the effective protection of the health and safety of seafarers should be a priority. Under the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board,” ILO said. “The convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore.”