Specifically, according to the circular, all vessels should carry a medicine test and medical equipment that is in line with the requirements in the current edition of the WHO ‘International Medical Guide for Ships’, and bearing in mind the number of persons on board and the nature and duration of the voyage.

  • Moreover, all vessels should be sure that their crew have access to the necessary medicine, medical equipment and facilities for diagnosis and treatment, and to medical and occupational health protection information and expertise, which is generally comparable to that provided to workers ashore.
  • In addition, on-board medical treatment should be dispensed by an officer working under the responsibility of the master. Ships with a doctor on board may carry an expanded range of medicines and other medical equipment and supplies.

The list for medical items should include:

  1. expiry date
  2. storage conditions
  3. quantities remaining after purchase or use.

Additionally, each vessel should keep an always updated record concerning the treatment given to any person onboard, with the type and quantity of any medicine.

  • The master of each vessel is responsible for managing medical supplies that are kept onboard. Although he may delegate responsibility for their use and maintenance to a properly trained crew member. Yet, welltrained, crew members are not medically qualified. A doctor should always be consulted about serious illness or injury or when any doubt exists about the proper action to take in treating a patient. All ships carrying 100 or more persons and ordinarily engaged on international voyages of more than 3 days duration shall carry a qualified medical doctor.
  • The medicines and medical equipment shall be inspected in a period, not exceeding 12 months, by the designated medical officer on board, who shall ensure that the labelling, expiry dates and conditions of storage of all medicines and directions for their use are checked and all equipment functioning as required.
  • Drawers or medicine cabinets should be large enough to store medicines and equipment in an orderly manner so that they are easily identified and available for immediate use. This is particularly important for medicines and equipment used in emergencies: these should be kept separately in the most accessible place.

Generally, items of the same type or category should be stored in a box, shelf or drawer, properly labelled. Controlled medicines must be kept apart in a locked compartment, preferably the master’s safe, in a room that is locked when unoccupied (see below, under Controlled drugs).

  • All medicines must be kept in good condition and protected against humidity and temperature extremes. When not otherwise specified, they should be stored at room temperature (15–25 °C). A refrigerator should be available nearby for storage of items that must be kept at 2–8 °C. This refrigerator should not be used for any other purpose and should be equipped with a lock.
  • An expiry date for a medicine corresponds to the average maximum shelf life for that medicine, given appropriate storage conditions. Medicines must be inspected regularly to make sure they have not reached or exceeded their expiry dates: those that have, should be replaced and then discharged properly. Advice should be provided to the port of the type of garbage (e.g expired medicines) to be discharged and its separation and the estimated amounts.

Certain types of medical equipment also have expiry dates. Moreover, some countries impose fines on ships entering their territory with expired medicinal items on board.

It is of a great importance that all vessels have aboard the current edition of the WHO publication ‘International Medical Guide for Ships’ and for those ships carrying dangerous cargoes, in addition shall carry the ‘Medical First Aid Guide’ and special equipment on board according to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code for use in accidents involving dangerous cargoes.

  • In addition, the master of the vessel is required to maintain a register of controlled drugs and this register must not be discarded before two years have elapsed after the date of the last entry.