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COVID-19 Update

Please note the following update regarding COVID-19 and the challenges affecting shipping locally and globally – “The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with provinces, territories and international partners, including the World Health Organization, to actively monitor the situation. Global efforts are focused on containment of the outbreak and the prevention of further spread.” Local officials, government authorities and key public stakeholders have been assessing the situation concluding that there is a need for “clear communications to provide a safe working environment for pilots and shore side labour and to avoid misinformation that could impose unnecessary constraints to the working environment, both at sea and alongside.”

Going forward, the focus of local groups including the BCMEA and ILWU will be to re-inforce pre-existing Transport Canada protocols. These protocols include specific reporting requirements for vessels including the 96 Hour Pre-Arrival Report which includes sections assessing crews health. Organizations are also working together to minimize human to human contact by doing longshore dispatch by telephone (rather than longshoremen showing up at the Union hall for dispatch). On Monday March 16, the federal government addressed the nation by announcing broad reaching travel restrictions. These regulations effectively prohibit the entry of Canadian non-residents (some exemptions apply) which means crew changes would not be permitted for the foreseeable future. This is currently being reviewed from what we hear and ship’s crew may be classified as essential which would negate the restrictions (to be confirmed). Further constraints and new measures may be implemented if existing systems are deemed inefficient.

In the Port of Vancouver, we have witnessed an increase in terminal requests for crew lists, Ports of Call and other documents that may assist the shore-side labour with identifying potential risks. These additional security measures coincide with the advice of Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security in which the implementation of safe guards is encouraged. There are currently no impacts to cargo operations on the waterfront, however, it is expected that the situation will be reviewed daily. The pilots have been circulating a Notice to Industry which outlines their sanitary requirements for vessels under their command –

  • In the hour prior to pilot boarding, please wipe down the entire bridge with a 5% solution of bleach water or comparable disinfectant (chart table, instruments, chairs, helm, entire console, windows, etc.)If the vessel has an elevator, please wipe down the inside of it and ensure that the pilot rides the elevator to the bridge alone (the need for social distance is impossible with two people in a ship’s elevator).
  • If the vessel does not have an elevator or the elevator is broken, please wipe down the staircase handrails with disinfectant.
  • Crew members entering the bridge should thoroughly wash their hands and face prior to entering the bridge and pilots immediately upon entering will do the same.
  • Any member of the bridge team, including the pilot, should sanitize their hands or wash them immediately after touching their face. Pilot should make this awareness a part of MPX.
  • Please only allow the essential personnel, such as persons engaged in navigation of the vessel, in the wheelhouse while a pilot is onboard.
  • Please refrain from eating on the bridge and ensure soap and paper towels are available in the bridge head for use by the pilot and crew.

Internally, we will start a “half staff” procedure, whereby some staff will work from home on alternating days to minimize human to human interaction within the office. Our customers should expect no discernible change to our communication or level of service. We have been taking our lead from Transport Canada’s guidance with regards to interaction with vessel crew members. Most vessels arriving in our basin have come empty from Asian discharge ports. Each Asian port is at least 14 days steaming from Vancouver therefore, presuming that vessels are being truthful with their reporting of any sick crew members, any vessel crew with COVID-19 should have already passed the incubation period – thus should be healthy. Likewise, any vessel arriving from USA port should have already been cleared by USA authorities. Nonetheless, the system is not perfect therefore extra discretion would dictate that we should take our own precautions to minimize unnecessary contact. As such, we will be attending vessels on arrival for inspections/port formalities and on completion for signing of documentation.Unless absolutely necessary, we will be avoiding our usual daily visits to vessels alongside and instead will establish telephone communications with the vessel masters. All of our controlled vessels will be advised accordingly immediately so they can prepare accordingly.

Boarding agents have been instructed to: avoid contact such as hand shaking, no use of vessel’s computer or pens/pencils, where possible, avoid transfer of paperwork from crew hand to agent hand (SOF/NOR/MR can be done electronically). Our provincial and federal governments are taking measures to prevent the spread and we will do our part to end this pandemic as quickly as possible. We will keep you advised if our office policies change in the coming days, since this situation appears to be very fluid.

Further information on industry guidelines for the Coronavirus can be found through the International Chamber of Shipping.