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.
Below is a short overview of some of the strict measures countires have implemented 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
Special Epidemic Prevention and Control Measures on Vessels having changed crew overseas within 14 days before calling a Chinese port:
On 7 September 2020, our local club correspondents Messrs. Huatai informed us of strengthened control measures local authorities now exercise on vessels which have changed crew either in the Philippines or at any other port overseas within a 14 days’ period before calling a Chinese port.
The crew change of Chinese nationals is a fairly uncomplicated matter in some Chinese ports, depending on the region. However, the embarking and disembarking of non-Chinese seafarers in Chinese ports still is a challenge. The Club would therefore recommend against a planned crew change of non-Chinese crew in Chinese ports.
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. For more information we enclose updates from local club correspondents Messrs. Huatai.
Due to an increase of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, local authorities have decided that with effect from 29 July 2020 until further notice, only merchant and passenger vessels will be allowed to enter the Hong Kong waters for crew change and be exempted from compulsory quarantine regulations.
A) Crew wanting to come off vessels:
With effect from 29 July 2020 until further notice, only cargo vessels undergoing cargo operations will be allowed to enter Hong Kong waters to conduct crew changes whilst being exempted from compulsory quarantine measures. Owners should comply with the following conditions as set out in the Notice from the Hong Kong Centre of Health Protection and the Annex containing the updated summary table of quarantine arrangement for visiting vessels.
B) Crew arriving Hong Kong via Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA):
The no-entry restriction for non-Hong Kong residents from overseas remains unchanged according to Hong Kong SAR Government. The following measures have been effective from 25 March 2020 until further notice.
Transfer/transit services at HKIA for passengers from airports in Mainland China resume from 15 August to 15 October 2020.
However, transfer/transit services to destinations in Mainland China will remain unavailable at HKIA.
The current situation outside China
The USA have entry restrictions for non-US citizens or non-US residents arriving from China and Europe in place, which make crew changes challenging in US ports.
Members may also find the following two website articles of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) useful:
We have 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).
The Maritime and Port Authority Singapore (MPA) has revised its COVID-19 Singapore Crew Change Guidebook on 4 September 2020. Members are encouraged to read through the latest version of said guidebook which we have linked below.
* MPA Singapore – PMC no. 31 of 2020: Revisions to Crew Change for Cargo Ship under special circumstances in the Port of Singapore, to minimise risk of community spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Singapore (Supplementary to PMC No.s 26 and 27 of 2020)
* 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.
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 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.