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Gard issues practical recommendations for ships with suspected cases of Coronavirus

Among reports of increasing numbers of suspected Coronavirus cases in China and globally, ship operators should monitor the situation and evaluate the risks present in the next port of call

Posted on: 30 January 2020

In response to the Chinese authorities having identified a cluster of novel Coronavirus in Wuhan City, China, the WHO, in a statement issued on 23 January 2020, said that the outbreak does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) at this stage, but would review the situation in a matter of days. At the same time, the WHO assessed the public health risk of this event to be very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level. Please refer to the WHO’s latest situation report for its most current risk assessment.

Current port situation

Chinese officials have now closed transport within and out of Wuhan, China and we have been informed that all operations in Wuhan port have been suspended. Transport in and out of some other Chinese cities has also been suspended and at the time of writing, the general travel advice from various national authorities is to avoid all non-essential travel to affected areas.

If the spread of the virus continues, ship operators may see similar issues arising as we have seen with previous severe disease outbreaks. In addition to the risk of crew members contracting the illness at ports in infected areas, port authorities may require ships that have previously called at infected ports to comply with additional reporting and quarantine measures to prevent the further spread of the disease. And as we have seen in the most severe cases of outbreaks, ports may be closed altogether.

General recommendations

We recommend monitoring the situation by consulting webpages maintained by the WHO and other public health authorities and evaluate the risks present in the next port of call.

Members and clients should consider the following recommendations and pass such on to their vessels:

  • The Master should ensure that the crew are aware of the risks, how the virus can be spread and how to reduce the risk.
  • Strictly enforce the ISPS requirements on ensuring that unauthorised personnel do not board the vessel throughout the duration of the vessel being in port.
  • The Master should give careful consideration to the current situation before granting any shore leave or planning crew changes whilst in affected areas.
  • After departure from port the crew should be aware of the symptoms and report any occurring symptoms immediately to the person in charge of medical care onboard.

Information on charterparty issues as a result of disease outbreaks can be found in our Insight “Charterparty clauses dealing with risks from Ebola and other diseases at ports of call”. This was published during an earlier Ebola outbreak. Given the current situation, we believe members and clients may find some of the information useful.

Practical recommendations for ships

In the event of a suspected diagnosis of Coronavirus infection on a ship, seek immediate expert medical opinion. The master should report the event as soon as possible to the next port of call, to allow the competent authority at a port to arrange, depending on the situation, medical evacuation or special arrangements for disembarkation and hospitalization of the patient and laboratory diagnosis.

In addition, consider implementing the following list of measures onboard the ship when a crew member or passenger shows symptoms compatible with the disease (fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath):

  • Keep the patient’s cabin doors closed, if not placed in a medical isolation room on board.
  • Provide information about the risk of disease transmission to persons who will take care of the patient or enter the isolation area.
  • Maintain a log listing everybody whoenter the cabin.
  • Anyone who enters the cabin to provide care to the person in isolation or to clean the cabin must wear appropriate PPE. A surgical protection mask is particularly important.
  • Limit the movement and transport of the patient from the cabin for essential purposes only. If transport is necessary, the patient should wear a surgical mask.
  • Start case investigation immediately. Wear appropriate PPE when interviewing the patient.
  • Identify the patient’s close contacts and ask them to do passive self-monitoring of any symptoms.

At the request of a governmental port health authority, it may be necessary to provide information on passengers’ itinerary and their contact details. Ships may also have to complete and deliver the Maritime Declaration of Health (IHR Annex 8). Measures taken on board should be noted on the IHR Ship sanitation control certificate (IHR Annex 3).

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