[Answer] How To Maintain COVID Safe Operations Between Ships?


The pandemic has made everyone’s life miserable, especially of those working at sea. yet they seafarers are continuously risking their lives and working in dire conditions to keep the trade flowing. Amidst such a condition, maintaining a proper COVID safety plan for ship interactions is crucial. keeping this in mind, the European Maritime Safety Agency has come up with a detailed guideline on how to set up a proper safety framework between ships.

We are highlighting those today to help the seafarers with their regular activities.

Guidance for coordination between ships & ports

One of the key elements to restart operations of cruise ships is to ensure a safe ship/port interface, inherent to cruise operations, where roles and tasks are well defined, agreed and understood by both parties as well as the associated responsibilities.

In order to deliver this objective, a number of issues have to be settled in relation to the exchange of information between the Port State authorities and the cruise ship before arrival, plans to disembark persons with COVID-19 compatible symptoms, embarkation/disembarkation of crew and passengers regardless of whether COVID-19
cases are declared or suspected on board, quarantine arrangements for contacts, repatriation and establishment of protocols for those visiting the ship (port workers, pilots, surveyors, auditors, suppliers, etc.).

It is recommended that both parties share their respective COVID-19 plans well in advance of the ship call, to ensure its interoperability and take, where necessary, addition measures to ensure compatibility.

In addition, Port States should ensure that any special requirements or pre-arrival information required from ships, due to measures introduced in response to COVID-19, are effectively shared and communicated as quickly as possible to cruise ships and all relevant stakeholders such as ships’ agents, operators, etc.

Voyage planning precautions

During the voyage planning stage, it is recommended that in good time before the cruise ship arrives at a port of call:

  • The company updates the COVID-19 Company and Ship Management Plan, as indicated in Part I;
  • The company identifies the contact point(s) in the relevant Port State;
  • The company contacts the Port State and informs it of the name and IMO number of the ship, the port(s) it intends to visit, the arrival and departure dates and the company and ship contact points;
  • The company shares the COVID-19 Company and Ship Management Plan with the Port State/port authority/terminal;
  • The Port State/port authority/terminal shares the COVID-19 Port Management Plan for the relevant port and informs the company about the applicable national/local measures with regard to COVID-19;
  • Both parties ensure the interoperability between the two Plans, especially those elements where both parties need to cooperate, such as embarkation, disembarkation, the use of the passenger terminal, re-embarkation after off-ship visits, crew change, repatriation, implementation of the outbreak management plan, testing arrangements, disembarkation of possible, probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19, management of
    contacts including arrangements for quarantine, reception of COVID-19 infected waste, and any other relevant element;
  • Both parties clarify any doubt which may occur, and which may have a negative impact on the interoperability between the two Plans. In such cases it may be necessary to involve the Flag State if deviations are proposed from Flag State requirements;
  • Both parties agree on the respective responsibilities and the specific protocols (information, communication, cleaning and disinfection, physical distancing, PPE, etc) to be applied for the elements identified above;
  • The Port State confirms whether the specific port has the capacity to provide an appropriate public health emergency response by establishing and maintaining a public health emergency contingency plan (International Health Regulations 2005, Annex I).
  • This public health emergency contingency plan should also be made available to the visiting cruise ship in advance;
  • The Port State confirms whether, in case of a COVID-19 outbreak on board, arrangements are in place to provide medical assistance, for passengers and/or crew, including evacuation to medical facilities ashore, contact tracing by local public health authorities and the management of contacts.
  • These arrangements may include regional or national resources, if appropriate;
  • The Port State indicates whether the visit is accepted and, if relevant, indicate the conditions for such acceptance;
  • Define and agree with the relevant authority which conditions should be monitored that could lead to a cancellation of the ship call and/or restrictions for disembarkation, including excursions, etc. If a pre-agreed ship call is cancelled, an alternative should be foreseen, where possible;
  • The company could indicate whether the purchasing of, e.g., PPE and/or cleaning equipment will be necessary during the visit and, if so, the Port State is recommended to facilitate, where possible and appropriate, such a

Reporting requirements

The following points describe the recommended exchange of information prior to the ship’s arrival and upon its departure, between the ship, the agent or ship operator and the Port State within the framework of this Guidance.

Ship to shore


Ship calls at EU ports is a well-established process. Member States have National Single Windows for reporting formalities, including the Maritime Declaration of Health (MDH) (“free pratique”).

The notification of ship calls at EU Ports is defined in Directive 2002/59/EU, as amended. In general, the prenotification period is 24 hours before arrival. However, cruise ship companies are recommended to extend the prenotification period due to the current circumstances to allow for a better coordination with the port authorities.

Similarly, the MDH is also required to be reported through the National Single Window prior to arriving in a port situated in an EU Member State as specified above in accordance with EU law (Directive 2010/65/EU).

It must be reported by the master or any other person duly authorised by the operator of the ship to the competent authority designated by that Member State. Any possible, probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 on board should be communicated without delay.

It is recommended that Member States request the ship’s master to keep the MDH
updated and communicate the following information to the relevant authority four hours before the estimated arrival in each port of call:
(a) Total number of persons on board (both crew and passengers);
(b) Number of persons infected with COVID-19 (confirmed cases);
(c) Number of persons considered as possible or probable cases of COVID-19.

This information can be communicated through the updated MDH via radio/telephone in case of imminent arrival.

Providing information between any party should always comply with the data protection rules (GDPR).

The company should facilitate the application of health measures and provide all relevant public health information requested by the competent authority at the port. If it is considered that symptomatic possible or probable case/cases should not remain on board the ship, disembarkation should be conducted as quickly as possible.

Member States receiving information on a possible, probable or confirmed COVID-19 case may share it on a voluntary basis with the Member States along the planned route of the ship and the ship’s flag (if an EU Member State) via the SafeSeaNet system.

For this, an addendum to the SafeSeaNet Incident Report Guidelines has been
agreed in order to provide guidance to Member State Authorities on the best way to exchange information relating to possible, probable, or confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection on board ships, and on the measures taken by the competent authorities in Member States located along the routes taken by the ships concerned.

Member States can share this information with other Member States on a voluntary basis using the Incident Report type “Others.”


While the reporting requirements normally include the provision of the crew and passengers lists on departure, it is recommended that the Member States request the ship’s master or any other person duly authorized by the ship’s operator to provide to the competent authority designated by that Member State the list of crew and passengers disembarked in that port. The Passenger and Crew Locator Forms of the crew/passengers disembarked44 should be made available to the Port State at any time, upon request.

Shore to ship

The Port State should convey to both the ship’s operator and the cruise ship information on the applicable safety/hygiene/health measures applicable in the destination port/area as well as the COVID-19 Port Management Plan.

The information provided should be updated as soon as the relevant national, regional or local regulations and rules change.

In addition, during the voyage planning stage, the Port State should confirm that the cruise ship call is accepted on that particular date and that the necessary conditions have been established.

At the pre-arrival stage, once the required documentation provided prior to the ship call is verified, the Port State should confirm access to the port, either electronically (e.g., via the NSW) or by other means

Disembarking suspected cases

Reference documents

In addition to the Annex, the following documents are particularly relevant:

  • Communication from the Commission, Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships45. (8 April 2020, C(2020) 3100 final);
  • Communication from the Commission, COVID-19: Guidelines on the progressive restoration of transport services and connectivity46 (13 May 2020, C(2020) 3139 final);
  • Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases or outbreaks on board ships, Interim Guidance47, World Health Organisation, 2 March 2020.

 Disembarking people

In accordance with the International Health Regulations (2005), it is recommended that the officer in charge of the ship immediately informs the competent authority at the next port of call about any possible COVID-19 infections on board.

Port States which receive calls by cruise ships in their ports should have the capacity in the port of call itself or a nearby port to provide an appropriate public health emergency response, which is recorded in a continuously maintained public health emergency contingency plan. This plan should be made available to the cruise ship and should include information on contact tracing and management, and the quarantine of contact persons.

Port States should develop procedures for disembarking infected passengers or crew who are to be transferred to hospital facilities.

During the disembarkation of persons with possible, probable or confirmed infections, every effort should be made to minimise their exposure to other persons and to avoid environmental contamination. The contacts of these persons should be managed in accordance with the guidance in the Annex 1 (Management of contact persons).

Any available medical record, Passenger or Crew Locator Forms or any other relevant information should be provided to the relevant health care personnel onshore.


Reference documents

The following documents are of relevance:

  • Communication from the Commission, Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships48 (8 April 2020, C(2020)3100 final);
  • IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14 Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Repatriation of persons

The primary responsibility for arranging the return of passengers and crew members rests with the cruise ship operator.

If a need to repatriate passengers arises, the ship’s operator must make the necessary arrangements to this effect. The Flag and Port States should support the cruise ship operator in making the necessary arrangements for repatriation in line with the Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships referred to above. The level of support possible should be specified in the agreed arrangements.

Repatriation should be undertaken as quickly as possible while ensuring good medical infrastructure and transport connections for those persons being repatriated. The arrangements may include facilitating the docking of the ship, the disembarking of passengers, health screening and treatment. Specific attention should be paid to persons with special needs.

For high-exposure contacts, the quarantine arrangements should be followed

Changes of crew

In relation to ship crews, it is recommended that Port States and their relevant national authorities should do everything possible to facilitate ship crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, notwithstanding any restrictions that may continue to apply in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to medical care onshore for crew members in need should also be granted under any circumstance.

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Source: European Maritime Safety Agency