IMO Marine Guidance


Recommended Coronavirus (COVID-19) Framework Of Protocols For Safe Crew Change and Travel

The significant challenges that the Coronavirus pandemic has placed on the IMO have necessitated changes we'd normally deem impossible. Impossible to implement without an impact on the global supply chain we're all part of, and without risk to the 150,000 seafarers that need to be changed over to and from the ships every month.
The IMO has issued guidance on the protocol to be adopted as the current measures are unsustainable. Crew are having to extend service on board ship after already being at sea for months, are not being able to be replaced after long tours of duty or are being repatriated via aircraft.
Why Has This IMO Coronavirus Guidance Been Issued?
The guidance articulates the issues associated with the safe transit and changing of crews, including border controls and immigration at ports and airports, as well as the general safety and welfare of fatigued crew.
The conditions that crew have had to work in and the extended periods of travel are beyond the acceptable humanitarian expectations and are threatening the safe operating of ships.
As you can imagine - the documentation of this framework is so detailed, it's a lengthy time.
The lowdown is that there is a strong emphasis on testing crews with EVERY crew change, to monitor their movements for seven days before and after embarkation, to cover up during ANY travel or public interaction and to relieve crews of their extended stints at sea.
If you don't fancy some 'light reading' of 61 pages of legislative text, here's a summary of how you can equip your crew safely through the coming months to limit the spread of viral infection on board and in ports.
We've handpicked where you'll want to prioritise. Still, if you wish to reference the original document in full - all of the following information is extracted from the IMO Coronavirus Circular letter No.4204/Add.14.
Who Is The IMO COVID-19 Circular Letter Aimed At?
The IMO Circular Letter is aimed at maritime organisations and all of their liaising departments and stakeholders. This includes relevant national authorities such as health, customs, immigration, border control, seaport and civil aviation authorities, plus shipping companies and agents and anyone facilitating or arranging airport or seaport travel.
What Is The Purpose Of The Circular Letter?
IMO Coronavirus Circular letter No.4204/Add.14 lays out the protocol that all relevant maritime associates must follow in the current COVID-19 Pandemic in order to restrict the spread of the virus. It clearly details the essential measures to adhere to in order to keep your crew and workers safe, and the workarounds required to change over your crew and relieve them of recently unacceptable tour lengths.
This includes but is definitely not limited to:

  • Assessing basic risks in the working environments
  • Implement safeguarding processes
  • Document this Safety Management System (SMS)
  • Put protective health measures and equipment in place such as free PPE
Does The IMO Coronavirus Circular Only Refer To Employee Practices?
No. It refers to all action taken as part of the movements of crew to reach their working environments too. For instance, travel between countries via air will necessitate additional testing at airports and documented confirmation that this has taken place. It is not sufficient to only comply with domestic procedures during travel - there is an expectation that crew and their facilitators manage the risks between destinations as part of their working protocol too and document this well.
"Implementation of these protocols should be supported by documentation in order to facilitate recognition of adherence to these recommendations throughout the crew change and travel process".
The IMO Circular refers to time spent within the sites of work, as well as time spent in airports, temporary accommodation, place of ordinary residence and all travel and transfers and proof of adherence is expected to be provided.
Parts 1 to 3 Of The IMO Coronavirus Guidance Circular
These cover the legislation you'll need to adhere to based on the crew members home or any temporary accommodation. It also applies to airports and aircraft. This is to ensure they are healthy when they travel. The upshot of this section is similar to that of crew on board ship - to monitor general well being and ensure no symptoms are present whilst at home.
For the period of 7 days prior to travel, whilst in their place of ordinary residence:
  • Seafarers are expected to have been familiarised with general information on COVID-19 and be aware of the protective measures required in terms of protective equipment and precautions.
  • Seafarers are also expected to be familiar and well-briefed on the company's COVID-19 procedures
  • All preventative measures are expected to have been followed such as social distancing, self-isolation etc. in accordance with WHO or local guidance.
  • Temperatures need taking twice daily, recording and submitting (we've created a handy download here) before returning to site
    All travel movements need documenting and to confirm adherence of protocol.
  • When physically travelling where other people are present, PPE kit must be worn and vigilance exercised regarding contact and distancing.
  • All luggage must be handled and carried themselves.
  • Public transport must be avoided whenever possible, but if it is vital, PPE kit MUST be worn.
  • Testing equipment must be provided free of charge to all crew or seafarers, regardless of nationality.
  • Adherence to social distancing protocol is essential during flights or travel.
Airports are encouraged to designate a specific area to seafarers arriving and departing where they can be separately zoned for check-in and health-screening if necessary.
All employers and governments involved in the travel facilitation of workers
MUST ensure that all testing equipment is provided and available to
ensure the safe transit of workers between their destinations.

Key workers may also expect a relaxing of rules around other documentation, i.e. expired passports to facilitate their travel, but not the documentation of Coronavirus protocol.
Part 4 Of IMO COVID-19 Circular Letter - Airport Of Arrival, Travel and Temporary Accommodation
The above paragraphs cover the minimum expectations applicable to airports the seafarers are arriving in and their travel arrangements. There is little difference from the workers' point of view; however, there is a substantial difference to how governments are being advised to process seafaring crew:
"4.1.6 Give serious consideration to exempting seafarers from any isolation or quarantine measures that might be applicable to other passengers arriving by aircraft from other countries - provided that testing, temperature checks, interviews and assessments, etc. are all in place"
If travel or temporary accommodation MUST be used, the company must arrange for this wherever possible. They are not, however, deemed to be responsible for the standards and protocol in place with these providers.
It is also made clear that PPE equipment must be worn for the entire duration of their stay and travel.
Part 5 Of IMO COVID-19 Circular Letter - Seaport
As this section is so relevant to our industry as a whole, here are the objectives of this section in full:
  • To manage the interaction between seafarers and port personnel and infrastructure.
  • To control the risk of seafarers becoming infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19), or infecting others while moving through the port to join their ship.
  • To manage the embarkation of seafarers in order to control the risk of bringing the coronavirus (COVID-19) onto the ship.
All of the previous protocol covered in the paragraphs above applies, with these additional requirements.
Movement In Port To Ship
The ship must have arrived in port BEFORE incoming crew are on-site, to minimise the number of people in the vicinity.
The ship must have already provided an 'Arrival' crew list and a 'Departure' crew list with details of both on-signers and off-signers as part of its Pre-Arrival Notification.
The ships' agent or representative has arranged transportation to the ship
PPE must be worn in the port and onboard
New PPE must be provided for incoming seafarers and used PPE is to be disposed of in compliance with company Coronavirus protocol
All workers must be confirmed symptom-free and safe to embark via documentation and testing
Ship Embarkment
In addition to standard social distancing and hygiene protocol such as hand sanitising, PPE kit being worn, testing conducted, own baggage handled etc. - the following must be exercised by seafarers:
Avoid close contact and non-essential interaction with other personnel on the quayside, on the gangway or in the launch, including other seafarers.
Keep all relevant documents required for the travel to the ship in a bag or compartment that can be easily accessed and disinfected later.
Accountability for the measures to be enforced is clearly to be owned by the company as per this section - extracted in its entirety for accuracy:
5.2.6 Ensure that the company's coronavirus (COVID-19) plans and procedures are fully complied with during the management of the embarkation of seafarers, which should include:
  1. Disposal of any single-use PPE worn by seafarers during travel;
  2. Seafarers at the point of embarkation wearing appropriate PPE (e.g. mask, gloves, etc.);
  3. Seafarers having their temperature taken at the time of embarkation, or as may be appropriate, being tested for COVID-19 if suitable test kits are available;
  4. Seafarers completing a questionnaire as an updated self-declaration of health at the time of embarkation;
  5. Disinfection of seafarers' luggage in a designated area outside the accommodation;
  6. Disinfection and/or laundering of seafarers' clothes worn during travel immediately after embarkation;
  7. Seafarers receiving documents from the joining seafarer disinfecting them, and washing their hands after touching any of the documents.
Part 6 Of IMO COVID-19 Circular Letter - Ship
The objective of Part 6 is "to monitor the health of seafarers following embarkation, and to manage and control the risk of infecting other seafarers on board should the seafarer have become infected while travelling to join the ship and this was not detected prior to or at the time of embarkation"
By following the procedures prior to boarding the ship, there should be an element of protection offered to the crew. However, some cases may still arise post embarking, and these need to be managed as follows:
Practise the shipboard self-distancing protocol listed below wherever possible
Apply any special measures for a period to be determined by the shipping company, taking into account any additional flag state requirements,
Check temperatures twice daily and keep records as may be required for a number of days after embarkation
Inform the Master (or designated responsible officer) if any seafarers show COVID-19 symptoms in accordance with the company's coronavirus (COVID-19) plans and procedures.

IMO Shipboard Self Distancing Protocol
These are the instructions seafarers need to follow as per IMO guidance
6.1.3 Practise shipboard self-distancing (SSD), as far as possible, for an initial period of time once onboard which, inter alia, might include seafarers:
  1. Maintaining a WHO recommended social distance of at least 1 metre when working alongside other seafarers to the extent possible;
  2. Avoiding all non-essential contact or close proximity with other seafarers and any other persons;
  3. Using external stairways/escape routes and walkways to move around the ship when possible, but only if conditions and circumstances permit and it is safe to do so;
  4. Disinfecting their own work areas, equipment and tools as appropriate after use;
  5. Refraining from using any common areas onboard, such as the mess/day room, laundry area or recreational areas when being used by others, unless special arrangements or measures are in place;
  6. Returning to their cabin immediately after completing work hours or duties;
  7. Remaining in their cabin during rest hours, except when arrangements or measures are in place to permit them to spend some rest time on deck;
  8. Receiving and eating all meals in their cabin, provided it is safe to do so; and
  9. Wearing PPE as instructed when outside their cabin.
Parts 7 to 12 Of IMO COVID-19 Circular Letter - Leaving A Ship and Repatriation
These sections mainly cover the same protocol already covered, but in reverse. The main consideration is proving that procedures have been followed (and documentation is provided to authorities to attest to this), and protective equipment is worn wherever possible and appropriate between destinations.
7.1.8 Prepare and assemble documentation referenced in these protocols to complete travel from the ship, which may be inspected by relevant authorities or other stakeholders during the course of travel and crew change.
The documentation should include the following documents and forms referenced in these protocols (see suggested templates in the appendix):
A Evidence of Seafarer Status Document(s)
B Crew Health Self-Declaration Form & Daily Temperature Records
C Employer Letter and Crew Change & Travel Information Sheet
IMO Coronavirus Circular letter No.4204/Add.14 At A Glance
If your crew have already been following COVID-19 protocol, not much of this will be new - we created this acronym for another document, but it's equally applicable here too.
In a nutshell, you're being told to minimise contact, cover-up, test everyone
and monitor everyone for seven days or an otherwise specified
period of time before and after boarding ship.
Meters & Masks - maintain the SSD or social distancing rules wherever possible or cover-up.
Assess - assess the risks via formal and well-documented risk assessments.
Reduce the spread - isolate infected personnel immediately and test peers in contact with them,
Test - test before and after embarking or with suspected COVID-19 cases
Educate - inform everyone and Master of confirmed cases and ensure protocol to follow is understood.
Keep records - Temperatures twice daily and all movements within seven days of pre/post boarding
As you can see, you're going to need a LOT of protective equipment and Coronavirus testing kits. We can help you with all of this and can create bespoke kits to fulfil your needs to keep your crew safe - simply get in touch, and our team will have them on the way to you before you can say IMO Coronavirus Circular letter No.4204.
What next?
Getting your copy of the Crew Change Protocol and Crew Temperature & Symptoms Log should be your first step. These will help you comply with IMO coronavirus guidance and ensure the safety of your crew.
PPE, as mentioned throughout the guidance can be found here. Regardless of fleet size and location, we have secured the essential PPE your crew need during transit and onboard.
Testing for Coronavirus doesn't need to be expensive or long-winded. CoronaSafe antibody testing shows results in minutes and has market-leading accuracy, and you can upgrade to CoronaSafeMAX which included telemedic support to talk you through every step of the way. Where a PCR swab is needed, CoronaSafe+ ensure you get lab-tested results in as little as 24 hours.

ILO: Treat Seafarers With "Dignity And Respect" During COVID-19 Crisis
GENEVA (ILO News) - Seafarers should be treated as 'key workers' and be exempted from travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic , say the Officers of a special International Labour Organization (ILO) tripartite maritime committee representing seafarers, ship owners and governments.
A joint statement issued by the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) also called on ILO member States to "do all that they can to facilitate the delivery of essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions to ships".
This follows reports that in some parts of the world suppliers have been prevented from boarding ships to give masks, overalls and other personal protective equipment to crews.
According to the statement, ports in some parts of the world have also refused to allow some ships to enter because they had previously docked in areas affected by COVID-19, preventing vessels from obtaining essential supplies.
"Seafarers are just as worthy as everyone else and should be treated with dignity and respect to ensure that they can continue to provide their vital services to the world," the statement said.
The committee also underlined the importance of ensuring that the flow of essential goods, energy, food, medicines and many other products around the world is not disrupted "by measures that impede the safe and efficient movement of ships and the seafarers who operate them".
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, has asked governments "to ensure that, in these challenging times, seafarers are adequately protected from the COVID-19 pandemic, have access to medical care, and can travel to and from their ships, as necessary, in order to continue to play their crucial role".
He welcomed "the coordinated efforts undertaken by social partners [employers' and workers' organizations] and the international community to respond to the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic in the maritime sector."
The COVID-19 epidemic is having a major impact on global shipping - which moves 90 per cent of world trade - and the working conditions of the nearly two million seafarers.
Seafarers' rights are set out in the ILO's MLC, 2006, which establishes minimum requirements for almost all aspects of working conditions for seafarers, including conditions of employment, hours of work and rest, repatriation, shore leave, accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering, health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection.
The Convention has now been ratified by 96 ILO member States , representing more than 91 per cent of the world's merchant shipping fleet.
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