The WHO and IMO have now issued a joint-statement to call upon member government states to respect the requirements of “free pratique”  for ships under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005, article 28).


The statement reiterates the principles of proper care for all travelers and avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delays on port entry for ships and crew as embodied in the relevant IHR and IMO regulations.

This statement also reminds all relevant stakeholders to co-operate during this coronavirus outbreak so as to minimise unnecessary interference to international maritime traffic and trade.

Namely, based on recommendations made by the WHO, IMO has issued the Circular Letter No. 4204 of 31 January 2020 to provide information and guidance on the precautions to be taken to minimize risk to seafarers, passengers and others on board ships from Covid-19.

Following the advice of the Emergency Committee, the WHO Director General did not recommend any travel or trade restriction. Countries are stepping up their efforts in line with WHO's recommendations for preparedness and response to this public health risk.

At the same time, additional measures are being adopted by countries, ranging from delayed port clearance or refusal of entry, which may cause severe disruption in international maritime traffic, in particular affecting ships, their crews, passengers and cargo, the statement says.

WHO is working in close collaboration with the IMO and other partners to assist States in ensuring that health measures be implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade

In this connection, WHO and the IMO, call upon all States to respect the requirements of ''free pratique'' for ships and the principles of proper care for all travelers and the prevention of unnecessary delays to ships and to persons and property on board, while recognizing the need to prevent the introduction or spread of the disease.

What is more, IHR States Parties have committed to providing a public health response to the international spread of disease ''in ways that commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.''

Accordingly, measures interfering with international maritime traffic are subject to provisions of the IHR (2005), including the specific requirements set out in Article 43. Furthermore, it is essential that States Parties implement the IHR with full respect for the dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms of everyone.

In particular, flag State Authorities, port State Authorities and control regimes, companies and ship masters should cooperate, to make sure 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, and crews can be exchanged.

WHO and IMO stand ready to assist and support countries and the maritime industry in responding to the challenges to shipping posed by the current outbreak of novel coronavirus

the statement ends.

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.