SOCP Crew Change Guidance Update
The uninterrupted flow of commerce through our Marine Transportation System (MTS) is critical to both National Security and economic vitality. During the ongoing national emergency, it is paramount that we safeguard the continued operation of our MTS in the face of acute and evolving threats posed by the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic outbreak, and the health and safety of all workers engaged in those round-the-clock operations.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, major issues for commercial vessel operators have been safe and effective U.S. Mariner Crew Changes, testing of mariners, and management of shipboard crewmember infections. This is becoming ever more difficult with the recent rapid surge in infections reported across the nation. There have also been several recent cases of COVID-19 infection on board our commercial ships that have caused significant disruption to vessel operations and schedules.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued initial guidance for Cruise Ships Crew Changes and Maritime Pilots to support safety and effective crew changes, and pilot boarding. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in their “Advisory Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response” designated transportation workers as essential.” In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Information Bulletin 11-20, “Maintaining Maritime Commerce and Identification of Essential Maritime Critical Infrastructure Workers,” provides detailed information related to function descriptions that support the MTS.
At industry and MARAD’s request, the Ship Operations Cooperative Program (SOCP) developed and issued the “US Mariner Crew Change Facilitation Guidance for COVID-19” in April, 2020. The SOCP membership, trade associations, industry partners, mariners, medical providers, regulatory and labor stakeholders have all contributed to this document either through direct contribution or practical experience. The objective of the SOCP document was to provide initial protocols that can be used uniformly across the US maritime industry to facilitate vessel crew rotations. This is a work in progress. As more data becomes widely available, symptomology, testing, treatment and response to infection and protocols for keeping our mariners safe will change. Research and development continues to enhance our knowledge of COVID-19 and how it can impact our industry and mariners; concurrently, it is paramount that we pay utmost attention to our mariners’ health and safety. The continuous improvement of any protocols adopted is necessary to minimize the potential risk of infection to all the personnel involved in vessel operations.
COVID-19 infections on commercial vessels have been minimized owing to the ongoing efforts of the mariners and the cooperation of labor unions, vessel owners/operators, terminal operators, industry associations, and Federal agencies. This has had a significant toll on the industry with no immediate relief in sight. Furthermore, despite the industry’s best efforts, the number of COVID-positive cases is on the rise and the number of ships affected are on the ascent.
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