Coronavirus, firstly detected in the central city of Wuhan, China, has caused an estimated 2,247 deaths since it evolved in late 2019, triggering also major disruptions to global trade.

Through the new Circular Letter No.4204, IMO Secretary-General advises Flag State authorities, port State authorities and control regimes, companies and shipmasters to cooperate, in the current context of the outbreak, to ensure that, where appropriate, passengers can be embarked and disembarked, cargo operations can occur, ships can enter and depart shipyards for repair and survey, stores and supplies can be loaded, certificates can be issued and crews can be exchanged.

COVID-19 is a severe public health challenge that requires understanding and close cooperation among all Member States to overcome challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of the relevant IMO instruments.

The principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay on port entry to ships, persons and property onboard are also embodied in articles I and V and section 6 of the annex of the FAL Convention.

Several IMO instruments contain provisions that may be relevant to the impact on shipping caused by COVID-19. These include, but are not limited to:

  • SOLAS, 1974;
  • MARPOL, 1973;
  • BWM Convention, 2004;
  • STCW, 1978; and
  • Resolution A.1119(30), Procedures for port State control, 2017

In addition, the Secretariat has received the following communication from the ILO:

"In the context of the evolving coronavirus outbreak, the effective protection of the health and safety of seafarers should be a priority. Under the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board. The Convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore."

The Organization will continue to closely monitor the situation and the Secretary-General will provide additional information as appropriate and will bring these matters to the attention of the relevant organs of the Organization, in particular the Maritime Safety Committee, the Marine Environment Protection Committee, the Facilitation Committee and the Legal Committee.

Coronavirus: How to stay protected

The WHO alerts that the principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of acute respiratory infections:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.
  • Frequent handwashing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
  • Avoiding unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.
  • People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.

IMO has also issued Circular Letter No.4203 and Circular Letter No.4204 providing information on the precautions to be taken to minimize risks to delegates attending meetings at IMO following the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus.

See a list with guidance circulars here.