International Maritime Organisation (IMO) issues global guidance to governments on how to maintain trade amid COVID-19 crisis


The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a global public health crisis, the response to which by Governments requires the maintenance of global supply chains to ensure that the world’s medical supplies, food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components vital to the preservation of employment, continue to reach their intended destinations. In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade, transport and services moving. 

Maritime transport carries around 90% of world trade, so it is vital that Governments facilitate the continuing operation of shipping, and ports under their jurisdiction, to allow the transport of marine cargoes so that supply chains are not disrupted and to allow the global economy, and society as a whole, to continue to function throughout the pandemic. 

As Governments around the world are implementing policies and measures to protect public health and address COVID-19, it is important that these are developed without the introduction of obstacles to ship and port operations, including the movement of seafarers and marine personnel (as defined, inter alia, by relevant IMO instruments or the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006) for the purposes of crew change, as well as the wider functionality of port ecosystems (terminals, warehouses, rail and trucking, etc.). 

Ships and ports need to remain fully operational, in order to maintain complete functionality of supply chains. Governments and their relevant national authorities should therefore engage with appropriate stakeholders within their national shipping and ports sectors to discuss arrangements for the continued facilitation of international maritime trade, including port hinterland connections. 

The purpose of this document is to provide some preliminary recommendations that may assist Governments and their relevant national authorities to take a pragmatic and practical approach to the facilitation of shipping and port operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Providing access to berths in ports 

Governments and national authorities are strongly encouraged to ensure that all visiting commercial ships continue to have access to berths in port and terminals, and that quarantine restrictions are not imposed on the ship itself which prevent access to a berth and the timely discharge and/or loading of cargoes or other critical activities. 

Measures to facilitate crew changes in ports 

Governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to: 

  • Designate professional seafarers and marine personnel, regardless of nationality when in their jurisdiction, as “key workers” providing an essential service. 
  • Grant professional seafarers and marine personnel with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships. 
  • Accept, inter alia, official seafarers’ identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer, as evidence of being a professional seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes. 
  • Permit professional seafarers and marine personnel to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation. 
  • Implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation. 
  • Provide information to ships and crews on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice.

Measures to facilitate port (and related) operations 

Governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to: 

  • Identify port workers, port authority and port service personnel, and, inter alia, other vital ancillary personnel such as pilots, mooring tug and dredger crew, and ship suppliers as “key workers” because they provide an essential service to facilitating shipping and port operations to maintain the movement of cargoes and the conduct of other vital economic activities, regardless of whether they are public or private sector employees. 
  • Ensure that any special requirements or pre-arrival information required from arriving ships, due to measures introduced in response to COVID-19, are effectively shared and communicated as quickly as possible to international shipping and all relevant stakeholders such as ships’ agents, etc. 
  • Promote the use of electronic solutions for ship-shore, administrative and commercial interactions between all entities operating in a port and ships in order to reduce the risks posed by interaction or the exchange of documents. 
  • Ensure customs and border control stations in ports, and port health authorities, are provided with sufficient resources to clear and process import and export cargo shipments, ships and crew, taking into account any new protocols or procedures enacted as a result of COVID-19 or for the fact that some port workers may be in self-isolation, caring for others or ill themselves. 
  • Have arrangements in place so that pilots can continue to embark and disembark from visiting ships to which they are providing critical services to ensure safe navigation. 
  • Permit any essential ship’s classification and statutory surveys and inspections to be undertaken when these are necessary to allow ships to maintain compliance, (notwithstanding any temporary extensions that may be granted by Member States). 


Measures to ensure health protection in ports 

Governments and relevant national authorities are recommended to: 

  • Request ships to report any cases of illness indicative of COVID-19 infection on board as early as possible before arrival to the relevant authority in the port. 
  • Advise ships to regularly monitor shipboard personnel while in port for the exhibition of any symptoms associated with COVID-19, and report any changes in circumstances of the health of shipboard personnel to the relevant authority in the port. 
  • Consider temporarily restricting shipboard personnel to the ship while in port (except or until the situation permits otherwise) unless disembarking as part of a crew change or to receive emergency medical attention not available on board the ship. 
  • Limit, as far as possible, the number of interactions with shipboard personnel by entities in the port to only those critical and essential for the continued operation and supply of the ship. 
  • Provide information to port workers on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on WHO advice. 
  • Ensure those working in ports and having access to ships are provided with appropriate personal protection equipment (which could include masks, hand sanitizers and other means of preventing the spread of the virus) prior to contact with seafarers. 
  • Request port authorities and port workers to comply with any screening or other protocols or procedures introduced by visiting ships to address COVID-19. 
  • Provide seafarers with access to emergency medical treatment ashore in the event of medical emergencies. 

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