Living in the COVID-19, WHO suggests to maintain social distance of at least 1 metre from other persons to the extent possible. When it comes to life onboard, seafarers need to conduct daily work minimizing contact and close proximity to other seafarers. In particular, seafarers are called to practise shipboard self-distancing (SSD) in accordance with their Company’s coronavirus (COVID-19) plans and procedures. But what does that mean in practice?
Operators need to always keep in mind to comply with standard infection protection and control precautions related to social distancing, self-isolation, hygiene (e.g. hand-washing, avoid touching face, etc.) and safe food handling practices, in accordance with WHO, national or local guidance.
Practicing shipboard self-distancing
In particular, IMO notes that shipping organizations should provide guidance to seafarers to practice shipboard self-distancing (SSD), as far as possible, for an initial period of time once on board. That suggests seafarers to:
- Maintain a WHO recommended social distance of at least one metre when working alongside other seafarers to the extent possible;
- Avoid all non-essential contact or close proximity with other seafarers and any other persons;
- Use external stairways/escape routes and walkways to move around the ship when possible, but only if conditions and circumstances permit and it is safe to do so;
- Disinfect their own work areas, equipment and tools as appropriate after use;
- Refrain from using any common areas on board, such as the mess/day room, laundry area or recreational areas when being used by others, unless special arrangements or measures are in place;
- Return to their cabin immediately after completing work hours;
- Remain in their cabin during rest hours, except when arrangements or measures are in place to permit them to spend some rest time on deck; and
- Receive and eat all meals in their cabin, provided it is safe to do so
How shipping organizations can help
First and foremost, shipping companies need to establish coronavirus (COVID) plans and procedures for their ships. To facilitate seafarers with SSD, shipping organizations are requested to provide onboard cleaning materials, equipment and substances to clean and disinfect seafarers their own cabin and toilet on at least a daily basis.
Furthermore, ship operators should consider requiring seafarers to complete a period of shipboard self-distancing (SSD) after embarkation in order to monitor their health and to manage the risk that they may be infected and be yet to display any symptoms at the time of embarkation.
Ship operators should also define what elements of SSD should be followed and for what period of time. ICS recommends that seafarers are expected to practice SSD for the first 14 days after embarkation, but it should not prejudice seafarers performing their assigned duties and responsibilities. Where maintaining appropriate distancing or minimising close contact might be difficult or nearly impossible, ship operators should require the seafarers concerned to wear PPE.
Upon completion of the period of SSD required by the ship operator, any seafarers who are not displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 should be considered safe.
#1 When seafarers are travelling at any time, they should avoid others as much as possible. Handwashing, physical distancing and good respiratory etiquette must be observed and a medical facemask may be advised.
#2 Shipping organizations should ensure there is sufficient availability of PPE and other materials and substances required to maintain hygiene, cleanliness and disinfect surfaces as appropriate on board ship.