Border closures and national restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic have left hundreds of thousands of seafarers trapped on board ships, or unable to join ships. At meetings at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) starting on 16 November, the IMO is once again pledging Governments to designate seafarers as key workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis, but it may, in turn, affect ship safety and disrupt the global supply chain. At a virtual Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting on 16 November, , the IMO approved an MSC circular recognizing the industry-developed protocols, which set out general measures and procedures designed to ensure that ship crew changes and travel can take place safely during the pandemic.
The protocols emphasize the need for Governments to designate seafarers as key workers providing an essential service. The protocols include practical steps for joining and leaving ships, including the need for compliance and strict adherence with COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, as well as measures to prevent infection on board ships.
The protocol will stay as a live document, which will be updated in line with developments concerning the pandemic.
The MSC also agreed to create a new special module in the IMO’s online information database, Global integrated shipping information system (GISIS), to register ports which facilitate crew changes and disseminate information to enable shipping companies to easily plan and organise crew change during the pandemic. Amongst others, the module will contain information about national focal points of contact which can be easily accessed by the industry in general and shipping companies in particular.
On a more technical matter, the MSC agreed a unified interpretation related to possible delays in delivery of ships during the pandemic. The unified interpretation (of SOLAS regulation II-1/3-10) concerns the term "unforeseen delay in delivery of ships".
Due to COVID-19, some ships are delayed in delivery, meaning they passed a deadline where new requirements would enter into force. This means they were designed and constructed to one set of requirements, but due to the late delivery should comply with another set of regulations (which entered into force between the original date of delivery and the actual date of delivery).
By push from BIMCO and other industry associations, IMO has issued a Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 saying that the treatment of such ships should be considered by the Flag Administration on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind the particular circumstances the ship was faced with. The agreed IMO circular calls for understanding and close cooperation among all stakeholders to overcome the challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of IMO instruments.
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