On August 26, 2020, The International Chamber of Shipping (“ICS”) published a new Covid-19 Protocol in collaboration with the International Maritime Health Association and INTERTANKO. On the basis of the May 2020 health guidelines released by ICS, the new protocol provides the vessel operators with two useful instruments for managing Covid-19 risks aboard vessels: (i) a flowchart and (ii) a PCR testing procedures matrix.

The color-coded flow chart is meant to assist in decision-making regarding suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases aboard the vessel. It may prove helpful to operators when difficult decisions arise about where to seek testing and treatment for suspected cases at sea. In preparation for an outbreak, management should already have in place a plan with procedures for handling suspected and confirmed cases. If a suspected case tests positive while the vessel is at sea, the flow chart recommends that the Master or operator consult first a company doctor or TMAS (marine telemedicine service), and then conduct a risk assessment based on “the ship’s outbreak management plan, location at sea, voyage length, facilities on board to safely isolate the suspect cases, and the condition of the suspect cases.”

The PCR matrix provides guidance for when swab-tests are necessary and what to do when a crew member tests positive, either on the way to the vessel or prior to repatriation. Whether testing is necessary in the country of departure will depend on the laws of the destination country. The protocol also recommends testing after arriving at the port of destination but before boarding the vessel, with a waiting period in isolation to test for exposure during travel. This results in the conclusion that two tests may be best practice: both in the country of origin of the crew member and after arrival in the country where the ship is located (but before embarkation).

The cooperation among these three organizations in issuing a new protocol to deal with Covid-19 risks aboard the vessel is most helpful given the cases in recent weeks. For additional guidance on minimizing Covid-19 exposure aboard vessels, please see the ICS’ more lengthy Guidance for Ship-Operators for the Protection of the Health of Sea-farers, another collaboration involving the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA). For additional information on minimizing exposure during travel to and from the vessel, see the linked International Maritime Organization (IMO) Circular.