Hong Kong Permits Ships to Resume Bunkering and Provisioning Calls
Eleven months after Hong Kong closed its port except for cargo ships transporting cargo in and out of the city, the government today, June 15, loosened the COVID-19 related restrictions permitting the resumption of shipping services to vessels not working cargo through the port. While basic services are again available, the COVID-related restrictions continue to prevent crew changes or port visits for the crew.
“We would like to inform you that from 15 June 2021 onwards, exemptions will be granted to crew members onboard the non-cargo operating goods vessels visiting Hong Kong purely for shipping services,” write the Center for Health Protection in a letter to all shipping agents and companies in Hong Kong. The Vessel Traffic Center’s Marine Department is highlighting the letter to all shipowners as an important step to restore marine services in the port.
The new exemptions will permit vessels to now call at Hong Kong to bunker, provision, and exchange of shipping documents. Ships operating in the region had been forced to divert to other ports, such as Singapore or in China or Taiwan, for these basic services for the past year.
Executives in the bunkering industry called the move long overdue in comments to Reuters. They said the port had suffered from the 11-month-long restrictions and were hopeful that they will be able to begin rebuilding their business, in what had been one of Asia’s busiest bunkering ports before the pandemic.
While bunkering and other services will be permitted, Hong authorities are limiting these exemptions only to ships that have not visited “high-risk places,” in the last 21 days. Ships planning to call in Hong Kong must submit a port of call list for the past 21 days. The current list of high-risk places includes neighboring India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, as well as Brazil and South Africa.
Regardless of the recent port calls, all vessels receiving the exemption will also only be permitted to anchor. Crew can not go ashore and no crew changes, both sign-on and sign-off, will be permitted.
While the vessels are at anchor, Hong Kong health authorities are telling local workers that they “do not need to go onboard the goods vessels for provision of bunker/reprovisioning services, or switching of documents.” Anyone boarding the vessels or coming in contact with the crew should take precautions, including wearing personal protective equipment and checking their body temperatures. In addition, the health authorities are encouraging the shipping service companies to deploy workers who have completed COVID-19 vaccinations or perform regular testing for individuals who come in contact with the crew aboard the vessels permitted to enter the port for services.
The health authorities are also encouraging the service personnel to disinfect anything from carrying baskets to pens and folders that are exchanged between the arriving ships and the local employees.
Hong Kong had briefly opened its port for crew changes in June and July 2020, not requiring crew to be in quarantine or to complete a negative test before arrival. The decision to suspend port services and crew changes came in late July after six crew members arrived in the city and stayed in local hotels before boarding their ship only to test positive for the virus days later.