EFFECTS OF COVID-19 OUTBREAK ON MARITIME LAW

  • Humanity is now facing a new global epidemic outbreak named COVID-19 likes of which were not seen in the last century. The COVID-19 outbreak, which has been upgraded by the National Health Organization from the Epidemic Disease level, (having more limited impact) to the Pandemic Disease level (high level of risk of expansion all over the world) has had serious effects on the global economy. This impact has also caused serious problems and changes in the international trade and transportation fields that are the major components of the global economy. Many sectors were and are still affected by the current circumstances and the activities, operations of some sectors have come to a standstill. Many severe obstacles and changes have been observed due to Covid-19 in the field of international trade and transportation. In maritime transportation it is of utmost importance to keep the operations stable and as planned. In this article, we will try to analyze the effects of the COVID-19 Epidemic on marine trade by searching the responses of the following questions: What measures are taken and might be taken concerning ports, vessels and cargo? What kinds of inspections are executed and might be executed? What kinds of obligations and responsibilities are and might be put on to each individual of the sector? How these above-mentioned matters could be managed in order to minimize and/or eliminate the impact of this ongoing situation without getting in the way of common way of commerce. 1. Port Measures on COVID-19 As it is known, ports are facilities of loading and unloading of passenger and cargo from sea vehicles such as ships and boats, which usually accommodate cranes, road and rail connections by acting as a protective shelter for vessels from wind and waves. Failures occurred in ports may affect all transportation as well as the subsequent and related trade. In order to prevent these impacts on the ports in Turkey, various measures have been taken and will continue to be taken by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ministry of Health and the relevant local authorities and administrations. Such measures can be as follows:  Foreign crew embarkation/disembarkation operations during the transit or uninterrupted passages through the Turkish Straits of the vessels that have visited the ports of the prohibited countries within the last 14 days or having a crew member or a passenger that joined the vessel from these countries, with an exception for illness and death  Vessels that have visited the ports of the prohibited countries within the last 14 days or having a crew member or a passenger that attended on the vessel from these countries shall apply 14 days of quarantine and shall anchor outside the port area. The permission to berth shall be granted after the completion of the necessary inspections on the vessel, cargo and crew at the end of the 14-days quarantine period. It is important to note that the 14-days quarantine period is not a definite time period and it can be shortened or extended depending on the status of the port and the vessel.  An amendment foreseen in the Port State Control1 percentage that is to be maintained in the Turkish Republic controlled ports and a new rate of 15% is to be applied for 3 months from the date of the Circular (17.03.2020)  For vessels that called China, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Iraq and Iran and other prohibited countries in the last 14 days, no disembarkation is allowed at Turkish Ports for the crew. Having said that supply of provision, bunker and technical equipment are allowed to those vessel that called the prohibited countries.  In order to achieve minimum contact with the Agency personnel, the documents and certificates produced by the Agency for entry to and departure from ports and shipyards shall be archived by the Agent, in place of Harbour Masters, and will be presented upon request for inspection and investigation.  Notifications of all national and foreign flagged vessels returning from an international voyage shall be made through the Port Single Window System 48 hours prior to entering the port area (instead of 24 hours) 2. Vessel Measures on COVID-19 Vessels are the primary factors for maintenance of the maritime transport. In addition to the hygienic measures to be taken on the vessels, the Circulars’ published by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, General Directorate of Maritime Affairs states what kind of measures will be taken for Turkish and Foreign Flagged Vessels and what kind of changes will be made in practice. Certain amendments were made in relation to the preliminary surveys of the Vessels: 1 Port State Controls is the inspection of foreign vessels in national ports to inspect that the condition of the vessels and its equipment comply with international regulations and to control whether the vessels operated in accordance with these rules. Port State Control is not executed on every vessel entering into the port of the states but a control percentage is been determined by the sovereign state.  Pre-survey inspections to the Turkish Flagged vessels to be performed in two- months and four-months periods (instead of monthly and quarterly periods)  The extension of the vessel’s pre-survey period up to 6 months in case of the vessel visits the ports of prohibited countries within 14 days or having a crew member or a passenger that joined the vessel from these countries,  24 hour time limit to issue notifications from the Port Single Window System to be increased to 48 hours prior to the entry of the vessel to the port in relation to daily activities of the vessel for the previous 14 days, the lists of the seafarers, the lists including the profile of the passengers, the lists of the cargo including the profile on the type and origin of the cargo  To intensify free2 and clean3 pratique procedures  Any extension request for certification and survey for ships and companies will be granted up to 3 months after the review of General Directorate of Maritime. It should be underlined here that the profiles of passengers and seafarers on board and the proximity of the vessel’s trading area to the prohibited countries are as important as the condition of the vessel. In addition to the issues described above, the posters demonstrating the preventive measures to deal with the current Covid-19 outbreak, as exemplified below, must be hung in visible places on the vessel. 3. Port Staff and Seafarer Measures on COVID-19 The term seafarer describes all officers, assistant officers, trainees, assistants and auxiliary service personnel working on the vessel. On the other hand, port staff 2 Free pratique is essentially the license given to a ship to enter a port on the assurance that she is free from contagious diseases. 3 Clean pratique is the license given to a ship to enter a port on the assurance that she is free from contagious disease even she have visited contagious and/or infected area/port. describes those who have been assigned for the administrative affairs, especially for loading, unloading and information processing of the vessels operating domestically and/or overseas. These persons are in the high risk group of exposing themselves to Covid-19 and it is much more likely for them to infect the others. That is why, some administrative and legal regulations are also brought for these persons as summarized below:  Supply of respiratory mask, disinfectant gels, safety glasses, protective overalls, nitrile gloves to the seafarers and port staff for their personal cleaning and hygiene  Informing the seafarers and the port staff on the outbreak of the Covid-19; how to protect themselves from being contaminated and the measures to be taken to prevent the outbreak and/or its increase  The master and/or the health officer on board shall measure the daily fever of each personnel and shall keep this data on the relevant list every single day  The seafarers are expected to take the below actions to prevent the outbreak of Covid-19: o Not to work onboard a vessel while having symptoms of fever or respiratory disease o To keep 180cm distance when interacting with sick persons and to wear protective respirator before interacting with any other person, to minimize as much possible any contact with others, o To wash hands as frequently as possible, if not possible, to use a hand disinfectant containing 60%-95% alcohol o Covering mouth and nose in case of sneezing and coughing o Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth  Number of the seafarers and port staff shall be minimized as much as possible to minimize the risk of spread,  After the expiry of the 14 days of quarantine period for the vessel, a further14 days period of quarantine might be ordered on the seafarers of these vessels after the necessary health checks (Not mandatory but can be decided according to the results of the health check)  Mandatory health checks shall be made for Turkish seafarers signing off the vessel. If the seafarer has symptoms of Covid-19, he shall be hospitalized in accordance with Covid-19 Guide. Seafarer not having any symptoms of Covid- 19 shall, before being permitted to leave the vessel, sign the “Information, Consent and Home Monitoring Form on Covid-19”. The seafarers that signed the consent form will be monitored by the City Health Directorate during the 14 days quarantine period.  For the port staff abroad, if an imminent return is not possible, an extension shall be granted to their work permits for 3 months. If an imminent return is possible, a quarantine period of 14 days after the entry to the country under the monitoring of the City Health Directorate is mandatory and these 14 days can be considered as an administrative leave for the corresponding working days.  The port staff in the country that are over the age of 60, pregnant women, breast- feeding, disabled and other members of the disadvantaged groups determined by the Ministry of Health to be deemed in administrative leave (those with immune problems, cancer patients, chronic respiratory patients, obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, organ transplants, chronic patients)  Besides the abovementioned regulations, Turkish Strait pilots requires all personnel and crew to put on masks before the pilot’s embarking on the vessel. The deck officers are also required to put on masks when transiting through the Istanbul Straits.  As of 24 March 2020, any new application for seafarer certificates will not be accepted and all exams to be scheduled at a later stage. Advisory, but not mandatory, measures are also foreseen by the competent national and international authorities. Such advisory measures can also be summarized as follows:  Encouragement of the use of disposable plastics to be disposed in washable bins,  Isolation of Covid-19 patient in air-tight rooms having the ideal room temperature  As the symptoms of Covid-19 is not definitive and can be mistaken with other diseases, a person suspecting of being infected can first consider taking an influenza test. 4. Possible Further Measures to be Taken In case of further spread of the Covid-19 outbreak, in addition to the above cited measures, further precautionary measures might also be taken. Some examples of the further measures that might be taken can summarized as follows in the light of the relevant competent national and international authorities’ advises:  Having enough quantity of hand and surface disinfectants containing enough percentage of alcohol  Having on board sufficient quantity of PPE, including facemasks, NIOSH- certified disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators, eye protection such as goggles or disposable face shields that cover the front and sides of the face, and disposable medical gloves and gowns;  Having on board sufficient quantity medical supplies to meet day-to-day needs. Have contingency plans for rapid resupply during outbreaks.  Having on board sufficient quantity sterile viral transport media and sterile swabs to collect nasopharyngeal and nasal specimens if COVID-19 infection is suspected.  More frequency in cleaning and disinfection of the vessel’s commonly touched surfaces such as handrails, countertops, and doorknobs 5. Prohibited Countries As of 24 March 2020, the list the prohibited countries is as follows: People’s Republic Of China, Iran, Iraq, Italy, South Korea, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Egypt, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Bulgaria, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Mongolia, TRNC, Ukraine, Kosovo, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Oman, Slovenia, Moldova, Djibouti, Equator, Canada, India, Hungary, Guatemala, Kenya Poland. Sudan, Chad, Philippines, Latvia, Taiwan, Peru, Sri Lanka, Niger, Tunisia, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Finland, Angola, Czech Republic, Dominican, Cameroon, Montenegro, Colombia, North Macedonia, Mauritania, Nepal, Portugal, Panama. IN CONCLUSION: Even though new measures are added to this list every day; we can expect measures similar to those listed above. When assessing or analyzing these measures, it should always be noted that the main aim of these measures is to control the outbreak of Covid- 19 and its impact and the secondary aim is to keep the negative effects of the outbreak to the maritime trade and transportation at the minimum. Best Regards,