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How the coronavirus affects the purser

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

** Please note that information is ever-changing and new information published on this topic every day.

Coronavirus is a virus causing cold and flu symptoms and has been around and identifiable for many decades. In December 2019, a novel (new) coronavirus strain was first detected in Wuhan, China, causing fatal respiratory disease in around 2% of those who contracted it. It is a completely new strain which is very contagious and can be serious in some cases. The Novel Coronavirus was officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO).

At writing, 78% of recorded cases have occurred between people 30 to 69 years of age, and only 1.2% in children. The case fatalities are highest in the elderly (14.8% of 80 year-olds), only 0.4% in 40-something year-olds and 0.2% in people 10-19 years. Most people who contract the virus recover without incident.

Travellers and crew returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring are at elevated risk. COVID-19 is creating challenges to yachts in a number of ways. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has advised that during this period, the effective protection of the health and safety of seafarers must remain a priority.

How might yacht operations be affected?

1) Port clearances

Many governments and ports have implemented increased reporting requirements and local restrictions including:

  • Delayed port clearance and additional reporting requirements

  • Prevention of crew and passengers from embarking and disembarking which is impacting crew shore leave and changes

  • Imposition of and quarantine periods of vessels or self-isolation measures for crew and passengers arriving from certain locations or who have come into contact with infected persons

  • Prevention of discharging or loading cargo and stores or taking on fuel, water, food and supplies

As an indication, Safety at Sea already published information as to what South African ports were implementing as additional measures to protect against the virus in February 2020. See the article here.

Go to Wilhelmsen Ships Service website for an up-to-date interactive map on current port restrictions. Plan all travel ahead of time.

2) Crew changes - extension of sea service beyond contractual periods

The period of service that crew are allowed to be continually signed onto the vessel is calculated as 365 - annual leave days. So if someone has 60 days of annual leave, they will need to be repatriated for their annual leave before 305 days of continuous service on board. This is something that Port State Control authorities do check and do not look favourably on when this is exceeded; it has led to PSC detentions.

In some cases, it is not always possible to change over crew in this time and their SEA can be extended for up to a month if necessary if the crew member voluntarily consents to this in writing. In this circumstance, crew are allowed to be on board for a maximum period of 12 months under MLC and details furnished to Flag.

Speak to the captain, management and crew about the impact that it might have on their service periods.

3) Crew medical care and sick leave

In a Guidance Note issued by The Cayman Islands Shipping Registry (CISR), they state that "any seafarer that is diagnosed with COVID-19 whilst employed would be entitled to medical care and sick leave as per their SEA, the law and MLC".

The guidance note also states that any "mandatory quarantine" on joining or leaving a ship for any existing crew should be treated as if the seafarer is still in service and therefore paid. For crew joining, this is something that would be negotiated prior to signing their contract.

"Precautionary self-isolation" is at the discretion of the employer and might not necessarily be considered in the service of the ship, however, the CISR does recommend that this be considered as in the service of the ship and therefore paid.

4) Expiry of CoCs and crew statutory certificates

Please check with your Flag State what their process is for informing them if any Certificate of Competency (CoC) holder is not able to revalidate their certificate before the expiry date due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes revalidating of any STCW certificates.

CISR: Submit a request in writing to CISR together with an official confirmation of continued validity from the issuing authority of the seafarer’s COC. CISR will give due consideration to issuing a confirmation letter for the seafarer to continue serving onboard. No fees will be charged for this confirmation letter.

5) Vessel audits, surveys, inspections and servicing of critical equipment

Flag might give consideration to the extension of mandatory surveys, inspections and audits during this time and servicing of critical equipment. Applications for extension of surveys, inspections, audits or the validity of statutory certificates should be submitted to Flag. The CISR has advised that an application for an extension needs to be submitted by a recommendation form the ship's recommended recognised organisation (RO).

To avoid PSC issues, applications should be submitted before the due date.

6) Pre-boarding questionnaire to be filled out by crew and guests

A risk assessment should be conducted of all crew and guests before embarkation. The purser should send this as part of the pre-joining documentation. Speak to your charter broker to get this information to guests before they join the boat. With the French ruling affecting the application of the VAT reduction in French waters this year, there was already a feeling that the charter industry would be negatively affected.

Developed by the International Chamber of Shipping:

Should the risk assessment show any risk factors, both crew and guests should not be allowed to board and should stay shore-side.

According to MedAire, there is no pre-screening test that can be conducted (aside from the actual test for the virus) and so good hygiene is still the best defence.

For up-to-date information on the regions affected and case counts go to the WHO website.

7) Increased scrutiny of invoices

The International Transport Intermediaries Club (ITIC) has reported that there has been an increase in fraudulent invoices regarding the medical testing of crew. While this would impact larger vessels and cruise ships more so than yachts, it is still recommended that all invoices are checked for accuracy. The ITIC states that "fraudulent invoices often contain errors that can easily be detected by those responsible for settling disbursement accounts".

8) Supply of goods and medicine to the yacht

There has already been a global rush to stockpile everything from toilet paper to hand sanitiser. The WHO reports that the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) has also seen disruptions leaving healthcare workers ill-equipped to care for patients.

While panic buying is never a good thing, it would be wise to check medical stores and supplies as well as any other medication that is critical to stock on board.

MedAire has recorded a webinar to address questions and concerns that they have received from yacht crew already. To register to watch the video on demand go here.

What are the symptoms of the novel Coronavirus?

Anyone with symptoms of:

  • Fever (usually over 38 degrees Celcius) and chills (take temperature twice daily)

  • Cough and sneezing

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing in more serious cases

  • Sore throat

Help prevent the spread

  • Practice cough hygiene: cough into a tissue, not into your hand, and throw the tissue into a closed bin immediately. Wash hands afterwards

  • Keep your distance from people who seem to have a cold, and politely nod your head instead of shaking hands/hugging

  • Hand washing is key! All crew should clean their hands frequently during the day, after coughing, and after touching desktops/tabletops and handrails that may be contaminated. Hands should be washed with soap and water (for at least 20-30 sec), especially after possible contact with coronavirus carriers or after touching respiratory secretions, noses, mouths, desks, and even toys in an area where the coronavirus status is unknown

  • Increase the frequency of cleaning of common areas (handrails, door handles, light switches, laptops, phones, keyboards, mouses, etc.)

  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol dotted around the yacht

  • Avoid touching your face (this is how the respiratory drops get into your system)

  • Ensure food is thoroughly cooked

  • Avoid people who are sick

  • Isolate sick crew (and guests) to single cabins with doors if possible and dedicate a person to tend to that sick person. This person should don PPE and dispose of it correctly

  • Do not travel if you are feeling ill

  • Routinely wearing face masks if you are well will NOT adequately protect you from contracting the virus

  • If you HAVE the virus, then face masks may be used (a surgical mask, not N-95)

To ease the minds of owners and guests

  • Note that you are following the CDC guidelines

  • Show that you are conducting the risk assessments via the questionnaires

  • Mention if any of your crew have been to regions with sustained community transmissions and that they have been self-quarantined for 14 days

  • Ensure that you stock PPE (masks, gloves, eye protection, gowns, biohazard bags)

  • Stock soap and alcohol-based hand sanitiser

  • Reassure them that you have a stock of tissues

  • Defer all travel to Italy and all non-essential travel to Northern Italy where there are quarantine procedures in place

Links to documents:

Health and wellness:

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