What To Do With COVID-19 Cases At Sea?

With the COVID-19 pandemic still going strong and with no signs of stopping anytime soon, the possibility of these cases happening onboard a ship should be taken into consideration. This is especially apparent since the situation with the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with 80 Filipino crewmen infected in that vessel alone. Not only is this needed for all the people onboard to travel safely by boat, but also to reduce possible infections once the ship docks on land and the people embark.

With these, here are the things to take note of when managing COVID-19 cases onboard.

Prevention and control

The first and foremost thing to do when dealing with possible cases inside a ship is prevention and control of the spread. For this to happen, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) lays out several factors that have to be examined thoroughly. The first step is monitoring and orientation in order to inform crew members of the proper steps. Screening devices such as thermal detectors have to be present for possible fevers related to COVID. Hygiene and disinfection, both with personal effects and common areas, must also be followed with personal protective equipment (PPE) provided. This is to lessen the chances of infection.

If a case is eventually detected, measures must be taken for reporting and emergency response. This includes isolating the infected individual immediately, limiting or restricting areas the person has been to for disinfection, and managing the people said person was in close proximity with. When it comes to reporting said case, everything must be detailed, including the crew member’s basic information, onset of symptoms, places traveled to in the past 14 days, etc.

Operations

In response to the needed urgency for the pandemic, the IMO has also announced the protocols that need to be done in Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1. This letter states that all relevant organizations and bodies need to ensure that the necessary movements – such as passenger drop-offs, ship maintenance, and supplies restocking – can still be done with no issues or delays. As the shipping industry is part of the frontline efforts, any mishap can mean inconvenience for the people onboard as well as the ones isolating at home. 

Moreover, if any seafarers need to be repatriated so they can return to their families or get medical treatment (if they’re a COVID-19 patient), then there shouldn’t be any dilly-dallying in getting them off the vessel.

Seafarer safety

Seafarers are the core people of this industry. They contribute largely to trade, the economy, and the daily necessities of the average citizen. Most of all, they are also people who have families to get back to and support. That is why keeping them safe and protected during this pandemic is of utmost importance. As a response to this, in the same Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1, IMO emphasizes the need for countries to cover the medical needs of their sick crew members both while they’re on the vessel and when they arrive on shore. Even with limited medical resources, each country must make sure their citizens, including these seafarers, are accommodated with the healthcare they deserve.

Extensions of certifications

The change in crew is a regular occurrence in the seafaring industry, especially with contracts in place. But with the quarantine locking down the borders of various countries, it would be difficult to do so. Not to mention that with how easily the virus can spread, opening up said borders for crew exchange can be quite dangerous. That’s why as per the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the one month extension of the contracts will be allowed even if it exceeds the maximum service period time. Given the outbreak, emergency protocols like this have to be taken.

The current state of worldwide health has caused all industries to respond in a way that is deemed safe to everyone involved. While the situation has been physically and mentally taxing to frontliners – seafarers included – bodies that govern the industry must implement strict plans of action to ensure that each maritime professional is cared for. As for the professionals themselves, each one of them must practice discipline and do their part in flattening the curve.

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