Managing Coronavirus Risk On Board

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Published Mar 2, 2020 11:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at the top of the list of ship managers' concerns, global maritime medical service Future Care has issued a list of general guidelines for crewmember health and vessel preparedness. 90,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide to date, and a suspected coronavirus infection on board - or even a case of the flu - can leave a vessel stuck in quarantine for weeks. 

As core, basic measures for health, Future Care recommends that crewmembers should:

• Sanitize hands often. Use water and soap and scrub them when possible. Use an alcohol-based hand cleaner if soap and water are not available. 
• Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, if possible, then throw the tissue in the trash. 
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the workplace using a regular household cleaning spray or hospital disinfectant wipes. 
• Facemasks are not recommended if the crewmember is not sick. Only N-95 masks are useful and they need to be replaced every few hours. There is a risk of contamination of the hands while taking masks off and thereafter touching the face with contaminated hands.

Maintaining good health is a primary focus, and crewmembers should be encouraged to: 

• Get the flu vaccine;
• Get plenty of sleep;
• Exercise;
• Eat a healthy diet;
• Comply with all prescribed medications

"Most importantly, there is no need to panic. We suggest that you advise your captains and crew to be mindful of rumors and information that is published by a non-authoritative medical source," wrote Arthur L. Diskin, FutureCare's global medical director. "Those with severe symptoms are usually older and with associated medical problems and should be identified and monitored closely."

For ship managers, Future Care recommends that:

• Employees coming from China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea within the last 14 days should be self-quarantined and not come to work during the remainder of the 14-day quarantine period. 
• U.S. crewmembers traveling outside of the United States should notify shoreside human resources personnel prior to returning to work to receive clearance. Non-essential travel to at risk countries should be avoided. 
• Educate crewmembers and monitor for illness.
• Isolate crewmember before boarding if they pose any risk due to their travel or contacts.
• Consider developing “sick crew” policies – how will you seek care for sick or injured crew members in ports where you either do not want to disembark crew or they do not want your crewmember ashore (at least not without 14 day quarantine).
• Keep personal protective equipment (PPE) on board and have respiratory isolation contingency plans.
• Identify port risks – every port should have an up to date risk assessment prior to arrival.
• Minimize local contact in ports.
• Develop sanitization plans for cargo. 
• Consider what will be needed if the ship is quarantined for 14 days – how will you arrange for supplies and any medications needed by the crew?

Reports of medical test billing fraud

The coronavirus epidemic has also created new opportunities for old-fashioned fraud. On Monday, the International Transport Intermediaries Club (ITIC) reported that it is receiving reports of fraudulent invoices being submitted to ship managers for medical testing services following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

With more than 89,000 people infected worldwide, and sadly more than 3,000 people losing their life to the virus, providing medical tests to seafarers is one measure that is being widely adopted by owners and managers. ITIC has noted that fraudulent invoices often contain errors which can be easily detected by those responsible for settling disbursement accounts. For example, a recent case involved an invoice where the vessel was listed with an incorrect flag. By checking with the vessel’s master it was quickly confirmed that the invoice was fraudulent.

ITIC strongly urges those responsible for settling disbursement accounts – and in particular ship managers - to be vigilant and to check all invoices submitted for coronavirus testing.  

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.