Ports, Cruise Lines Tighten Coronavirus Prevention Controls

Seafarers undergo health screening at PSA Singapore (PSA)

Published Jan 31, 2020 6:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

The novel coronavirus strain that originated in Wuhan last month has contined to spread in China, with nearly 10,000 confirmed cases reported as of Friday. 

Governments around the world have moved to restrict travel with the Chinese mainland and to evaluate all arrivals for signs of illness. On Friday, the U.S. government advised Americans not to travel to China - its most stringent travel warning yet - and announced that it will temporarily prohibit entry for any foreign nationals who have recently been to the Chinese mainland. American citizens and immediate family members who have been in Hubei province in the past two weeks will be quarantined for up to 14 days upon arrival in the United States. 

In addition, multiple air carriers in the U.S. - including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines - have temporarily suspended direct service to mainland China. Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa have already enacted similar policies. 

The outbreak is also affecting shipping, particularly the cruise sector. After a scare on board the Costa Smeralda earlier this week, Carnival brand Costa Cruises announced that it would restrict access to its ships in order to minimize risk. For the time being, anyone who has been in mainland China in the past 14 days cannot board a Costa vessel. 

"Costa Cruises maintains close contact with international and local health authorities to ensure constant health monitoring and protection," said Neil Palomba, president of Costa Cruises. "Our onboard medical teams are also continuously updated by our central medical services department and guarantee that procedures and screenings for ordinary and extraordinary prevention are applied on board all the ships in our fleet."

Costa has already introduced a medical form for passengers and a pre-boarding health screening, with temperature checks for anyone who appears to have flu-like symptoms. 

In a statement Friday, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced that all of its members will take similar precautions. CLIA's membership includes all of the major cruise lines, along with a dozen luxury and boutique operators. 

"CLIA members have suspended crew movements from mainland China and will deny boarding to any individual, whether guest or crew, who has traveled from or through mainland China within the previous 14 days," the association wrote. "Cruise lines take precautions to conduct passive as well as active screening of passengers and crew for illness prior to boarding when circumstances demand."

Chinese shipyards see delays

The coronavirus outbreak coincides with the Chinese New Year holiday, and the Chinese government has taken the unusual step of extending the break for up to a week in order to reduce the spread of the contagion. This policy is having an effect on shipyards, according to multiple owners and brokers. Dozens of vessels that are currently in drydock or expecting to drydock for scrubber retrofits have seen the work delayed due to a shortage of workers. Executives with Mitsui OSK and "K" Line told Reuters that they are aware of issues related to worker shortages and restricted access to vessels that are in drydock. 

The impact is also being felt for crew changes. With extensive travel restrictions to and within China, moving personnel has become more difficult, and ports outside of China are carefully scrutinizing seafarers who have recently visited affected areas. The Port of Singapore Authority is denying permission to disembark to any crewmembers with passports from Hubei province, and all seafarers leaving PSA terminals have to undergo temperature screening (and the possibility of quarantine in the event of a suspected case). Visitors who have been to China, Hong Kong or Macau within the past two weeks are being denied entry to the port. 

For crewmember health, the IMO has circulated the World Health Organization's advice for preventing the spread of infection. The IMO's tips for seafarers include:

- avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections;
- frequent handwashing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment;
- and practicing cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).

Leading marine insurers have advised vessel operators to minimize crew disembarkation and contact with shoreside personnel in Chinese ports.