The World Health Organization published an implementation guide for the management of COVID-19 on board cargo ships and fishing vessels.
COVID-19 outbreak presents special risks for crew and officers making extended voyages without calling at any port and lacking access to shoreside medical facilities. Such an outbreak puts their safety and well-being at risk and may affect their ability to safely navigate and operate the ship. The guide highlights that all ships and fishing vessels should have a written COVID-19 contingency management plan. Following its implementation, the plan should be tested regularly and updated as required.
Procedures on board cargo ships and fishing vessels in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
#1 Port State requirements
Ship personnel who have travelled from abroad should be aware that the country of embarkation may have implemented specific COVID-19 international travel-related measures for incoming travellers and plan accordingly to comply with them. For example, this may include quarantine and/or testing with nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs), such as real-time reverse-transcription polymerization chain reaction (RT-PCR), or antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDTs).
#2 Ship requirements
Ships and fishing vessels should always respect a seafarer’s human rights and dignity when implementing a risk-based approach to establishing a protocol of quarantine and/or testing, irrespective of potential exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, prior to the embarkation of new crew. The positive benefits of quarantine in reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission must be balanced against the related risks of infringement of human rights, psychosocial and economic harm, disruption to travel and trade, reductions in the movement of essential goods and workforce mobility.
Ship personnel may not be able to complete a quarantine period prior to boarding the ship. In these situations, arrangements should be made for them to complete quarantine period on board the vessel, if required. Should the quarantine period be shortened, assigning the individual to tasks where they do not have close contacts with other ship personnel should be considered
Crew members, where possible, should not share accommodations during the quarantine period. A risk-based approach should be applied whenever the shortening of the 14-day quarantine period is being considered, particularly with regard to emerging variants of concern
#3 Preboarding screening
Pre-boarding screening for all persons is recommended to detect any suspected cases. Pre-boarding screening may include the use of testing, self-reporting, visual observation and/or temperature measurement with non-touch thermometers.
The pre-boarding screening should be conducted as a risk mitigation measure regardless of vaccination or recovery status because vaccinated individuals may still become infected with the virus and transmit it to others while on board the vessel.
If logistically feasible, the ship or fishing vessel may make arrangements with the port to have embarking personnel tested prior to embarkation since it is more practical to have the seafarer quarantined shoreside than on the ship while waiting for results. An individual who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 should not be permitted to board the ship or fishing vessel and should contact the local health authorities for additional direction and care.
Negative results from pre-travel testing cannot guarantee that ship personnel are free from infection at the time of travel, since they may have been tested before they became infected or during the period when viral load is not yet sufficient to be detectable. For this reason, all IPC measures should continue to be respected by all ship personnel regardless of whether a negative test result has been received.
Preventive measures on board the cargo ship or fishing vessel
Where possible and reasonable administrative controls such as limiting room occupancy, barriers, shields, and directional arrows should be implemented to reduce opportunities for crowding in enclosed environments.
Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
Hand hygiene stations, such as handwashing facilities and dispensers for 60-80% alcohol-based hand rub, should be located in prominent places around the ship and be accessible to all staff, contractors, and visitors, along with communication materials that promote hand hygiene. Crew are to cover coughs and sneezes, and if feeling unwell, notify their supervisor and self -isolate until assessed by the medical team aboard or ashore.
Crew members should remain at least 1 metre apart from one another and from shore personnel whenever possible. If there is space in the crew mess or other communal areas, seats and work stations can be arranged so that crew members are at least 1 metre apart.
In situations in which physical distancing of at least 1 metre cannot be fully implemented, the master or skipper should consider whether that activity needs to continue, and if it does, take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between crew and shore personnel; for example, by staggering times for activities, minimizing face-to-face interactions, placing crew side by side to work or having them work facing away from one another rather than face to face and ensuring consistent mask use and opening windows where possible.
Use of masks
WHO advises the use of masks as part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of SARSCoV-2. A mask alone, even when it is used correctly, is insufficient to provide adequate protection. Other IPC measures include hand hygiene, physical distancing of at least 1 metre, avoidance of touching one’s face, respiratory etiquette, adequate ventilation in indoor settings, testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation and vaccination. Together these measures are critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Employers have a responsibility to provide at no cost suitable and sufficient PPE, conduct training and monitor safe use among its workers.
For any mask type, appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal are essential to ensure that they are as effective as possible and to avoid an increased transmission risk.
#1 While onboard a cargo ship or fishing vessel personnel are at a higher risk of negative outcomes from COVID-19 because of limited access to medical assistance. They are therefore advised, irrespective of vaccination status, to always wear a well-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth while working indoors with others, regardless of whether physical distancing of 1 metre can be maintained.
#2 While outdoors it is advisable to wear a well-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth, irrespective of vaccination status, when physical distancing of 1 metre cannot be maintained.
#3 Suspected, probable, or confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection should be isolated, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not or are awaiting viral test results. If they must be in the presence of others for medical attention or under other extenuating circumstances, they should wear a medical mask.
#4 Ship personnel are advised to comply with all local mask-wearing requirements while at port, in the local community, in transit to or from the vessel and while on shore leave.
#5 Non-medical masks 2 and disposable medical masks (if availability of Type II medical masks for health workers has been ensured) 3 are acceptable options for use by seafarers. If these options are not available, other types of wellfitting non-medical masks are an acceptable option (consistent with national policies).