Concerned Seafarers Call for Greater Access to PPE

Stevedores not wearing PPE during off-load. Photo Credit Human Rights at Sea.
Stevedores not wearing PPE during off-load. Photo Credit Human Rights at Sea.

Published Apr 13, 2020 7:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.K.-based charity Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) says it has been contacted by an increasing number of seafarers calling for more personal protective equipment (PPE) to be made more available, not just for themselves, but for those maritime workers who come onboard their vessels including surveyors, agents, pilots and stevedores.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) issued its “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers” on March 3, 2020 in line with current UN agency guidance, though this currently advises that: “Although face masks may provide some protection – especially if there is a risk of exposure when interacting with persons from outside the ship – the routine use of face masks is not generally recommended as protection against COVID-19. WHO advises that it is appropriate to use a mask when coughing or sneezing. If an individual is healthy, it is only necessary to wear a mask if the person is taking care of a person with the suspected COVID-19 infection.”

This view is not necessarily shared by frontline seafarers, says HRAS, who appear to be seeking greater reassurance for individual levels of protection as the pandemic unfolds, including the individual right to wear PPE such as masks and gloves.

HRAS highlights Regulation 4.3 of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention applies and which covers Health and safety protection and accident prevention: “1. Each Member shall ensure that seafarers on ships that fly its flag are provided with occupational health protection and live, work and train on board ship in a safe and hygienic environment.”

In the recent reported case of the Master of the MV Tomini Destiny refusing to off-load alongside the port of Chittagong, Bangladesh, due to crew concerns over contracting COVID-19 from excessive numbers of allegedly unscreened local stevedores not using PPE, the Master asked for PPE to be made available for crew use during ongoing shipboard operations which included gloves and face masks, as well as for remote off-loading by barges away from port wharves.

In that case, the owners responded, issued the crew with comprehensive PPE, and sanctioned the off-loading in outer anchorages as part of a compromise deal. However, HRAS says that consistent use of PPE can not be guaranteed by workers involved in offloads when in contact with crew members.

Worldwide, there is increased detailed reporting of port State measures by the likes of North P&I Club which highlights restrictions and the need for PPE, for example in Australia whereby: “Crew must also use personal protective equipment in public spaces on board the vessel whilst non-crew members are on board.” and in relation to Greece: “During the presence of MOH personnel on board, any crew members within a distance of less than 2 meters must wear all the protective equipment.”

Meanwhile, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) have consistently highlighted the essential need for seafarers to be properly protected, with ITF stating that amongst four other areas of response, there is the need for “putting health and safety first,” while the IMHA stated in an online document that there should be “facial protection for all crew (5 pieces /per person).”

For healthcare workers and infection prevention and control personnel in EU/EEA countries and in the United Kingdom, the minimal composition of a set of PPE for the management of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 as per the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s guidance identifies a FFP2 or FFP3 respirator (valved or non-valved version), goggles (or face shield), long-sleeved water-resistant gown and gloves.

“In reality, at the present time such high quality PPE may not be widely available, not individually recommended, nor realistic for use by crew, but the trend appears to be that seafarers are wanting to have access to it,” said HRAS in a statement.