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COVID-19: Updates and Operational Considerations

30 Jun 2020:

  • IMO: Governments must act to bring seafarers home

IMO hosted a Webinar “Get our hero seafarers home” on the occasion of the Day of the Seafarer, delivering a strong message urging countries to implement protocols on safe crew change developed by the maritime industry and circulated by IMO. (link, 29/06/2020)

25 Jun 2020:

On the occasion of the Day of the Seafarer, charity organisation “The Mission to Seafarers” is reaching out to all of us working within the shipping industry to set up a personal direct debit to help them continue do their valuable work. It is a simple process and should not take up much of time, but it will help them enormously.

Contact with Mr Tom Boardley, Chairman of The Mission to Seafarers (T +44 (0)20 7248 5202 E for more details, or click here to download the letter from The Mission to Seafarers.


24 Jun 2020:

INTERCARGO Media Release – Day of the Seafarer: “Slow Response from Governments Pushing Seafarers to their Limits” (link)

INTERCARGO’s Vice Chairman Capt Jay K Pillai voices the concerns of members on PRC crew change during COVID-19 at an HKSOA webinar event on 24 Jun 2020 (link). His message includes:

  • We request the relevant authorities in China to allow all Mainland ports to permit crew change at least for Chinese national without any restrictions. If Chinese Government allows TRANSIT of PRC Seafarers through Hong Kong SAR on ANY Airlines (lots of flight connections), we can relieve all our PRC crew promptly.
  • We request the support and compassion for our PRC Seafarers from both the Hong Kong SAR Government and Chinese Mainland Government. You have ratified SOLAS, STCW, MLC and Ship Owners look upto your support to facilitate crew changes in accordance with UN/IMO/ILO/ICAO circulars.


22 Jun 2020:

IMO – annual Day of the Seafarer, 25 Jun 2020, webpage (link) highlights that:

  • This year, the Day of the Seafarer campaign calls on Member States to recognize seafarers as key workers – and to provide them with the support, assistance and travel options open to all key workers during the pandemic.


12 June 2020:

INTERCARGO Media Release of Urgent video message: “Crew Change – time is running out” (link)

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.22 on 11 June 2020 (link), informing of the Singapore Crew Change Guidebook (see also

Recognizing the ongoing challenges that the industry is facing to effect crew change in Singapore, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) initiated the formation of the Singapore Crew Change Working Group with its tripartite partners: the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Officersʹ Union (SMOU), and in cooperation with the International Maritime Employersʹ Council Ltd (IMEC) and the World Shipping Council (WSC). The Working Group developed this Guidebook which provides guidance to the shipping community on how to effect crew change in Singapore during these extraordinary times.

IMO supports the initiative of Singapore, and invite its Member States and the relevant international organizations to take this initiative as a model to develop similar guidance to address crew change.


09 Jun 2020:

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.21 on 8 June 2020 (link), informing of:

  • Joint statement IMO-UNCTAD – Call for collaborative action in support of keeping ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Crew Change Report

The first Crew Change Report (Jun 1 2020) was circulated by ICS on the responses to date (reported crew changes up to end of May 2020).

  • An ICS Crew Change Report Form was launched in mid-May to enable ICS to collect information on crew changes attempted during the COVID-19 pandemic. (
  • The Crew Change Report Form has received 1152 reports to date, which provides a snapshot of the crew changes attempted worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • This report covers the reports of crew changes attempted in May 2020. Findings in this report are based on a sample size of 816 crew changes attempted in ports or terminals in 73 countries in May 2020.
  • Crew changes are reported to have been successfully completed in 50 different countries in May 2020.

Contact for details of the first Crew Change Report (Jun 1 2020).


03 Jun 2020:

IMO issued a Circular Letter on 2 Jun on Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance for flag States regarding surveys and renewals of certificates during the COVID-19 pandemic (link), informing that:

  • IMO urges Governments to carefully consider the introduction of restrictions which would affect the conduct of statutory surveys, so that the survey and certification regime can continue to operate as normal, ships can comply with the relevant mandatory requirements and Parties can adhere to their obligations under treaties.
  • the extension of the validity of certificates beyond the statutory maximum should only be considered in extraordinary circumstances and if no other alternative, such as the issuance of a short-term certificate with an appropriate risk-based survey, exists. The issuance of short-term certificates or other measures should be limited to specific situations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and relevant decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.



01 Jun 2020:

A webinar on COVID-19 and maritime labour issues: Impact and Responses is to be co-organized by the International Labour Organization and the International Training Centre of the ILO on Friday 5 Jun 2020, in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). (details here)

This webinar will highlight the concerns affecting the employment of seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular in light of the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended (MLC, 2006).

To join the webinar from 11:00 to 12:30 CET on 5 Jun 2020, click here.


28 May 2020:

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.18 on dated 26 May 2020 (link), with the Joint Statement of IMO, ICAO and ILO on designation of seafarers as key workers. The Joint Statement requests IMO Member States to take urgent action on crew changes to relieve and repatriate crew in a safe way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The updated version of the Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers (link) was released by ICS. An earlier version was previously issued in March 2020.

The 48-page document provides comprehensive recommendations on:

  • Safe port entry
  • Shipboard measures to address risks associated with COVID-19
  • Managing an outbreak of COVID-19 on board ships
  • Managing other medical issues during COVID-19, including medical assistance to seafarers in ports


26 May 2020:

Singapore MPA issued a Circular No. 026 of 2020 on 22 May (link). One INTERCARGO member reminded us that:

  • There is a new restriction ( Required 14 days Notice before any attempt of crew changes is made ) imposed by the MPA which is making things more difficult than before.


22 May 2020:

  1. WHO/Joint UN Agency Webinar on COVID-19 and the health of seafarers (28 May 2020)

Members are invited to contact their respective administrations (government departments of Health, Labour and Transport and their maritime directorates)  and encourage them to register for the WHO/Joint UN Agency Webinars on COVID -19 and the Health of seafarers. The webinar will be hosted twice on Thursday 28 May 2020 to accommodate multiple time zones:

  • Thursday, 28 May – 11h00-12h00 Geneva; 14h30 Delhi; 05h00 Washington

Please find the details (link) relating to the webinar being convened to educate all governmental contacts in the National Departments of Health, Labour and Maritime Directorates.

  1. IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.17 (21 May 2020)

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.17 on 21 May 2020:

  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.17 – Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Preparing for post COVID-19 operations: considerations and practicalities for port community systems, single window and other electronic exchange platforms
  1. EU COVID-19 transport measures (20 May 2020)

The EU webpage (link) informs that European Council adopts temporary flexibility for licences and port services:

  • The EU is adapting certain rules for different transport sectors to help companies and authorities cope in the extraordinary circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis. The Council adopted temporary measures enabling the extension of the validity of certain certificates and licences in road, rail and waterborne transport, and relaxing the rules on charging ships for the use of port infrastructures.


20 May 2020:

A few shipping associations are collecting feedback via their webpages, such as InterManager’s (link), the International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) (link) and ICS’ (link to the ‘one minute’ Crew Change Survey). The InterManager’s and IMEC’ webpages show tables with details of the nationalities of seafarers who have been relieved, while the ICS webpage is a reporting channel. The ICS intention is to issue the results every second week, in order to begin maintaining a ‘white list’ of those countries in which crew changes are being successfully undertaken, which will hopefully indicate progress in the immediate days and weeks ahead. Another useful webpage is the “Coronavirus – Global Port Restrictions Map” of Wilhelmsen Ships Service (link).

To assist members in assessing what is happening in the bulk carrier sector, we encourage members to report the following items and a summary of the reports would be shared with members and other shipping associations for reference:

1). Date of crew change:

2). Name of Port/Terminal:

3). Country:

4). Was the crew change successful? Yes or no

5). Type of crew change permitted by relevant authorities

  • Crew can join and leave the ship (tick to select     )
  • Crew can only join the ship (tick to select     )
  • Crew can only leave the ship (tick to select     )

6). Nationalities permitted for crew change by relevant authorities

  • Both foreign nationals and nationals of the country where the port/terminal is located (tick to select     )
  • Only nationals of the country where the port/terminal is located (tick to select     )

7). Did the crew change involve the use of an airport in the same country as the port/terminal?

8). If possible, please provide further information about the crew change, such as nationalities of crew involved, numbers of crew involved, if there were any visa issues etc.


15 May 2020:

International industry associations sent out messages to request national associations, in liaison with local unions, to use the joint ICS/ITF “template” letter (link) to national ministers responsible for shipping and aviation, as well as national airlines, to promote use of the new Framework of Crew Change Protocols (link) and the resumption of crew change flights. “Template” letter aims to assist the dialogue with Governments and airlines.


13 May 2020:

The shipmanager’s association InterManager sets up a webpage (link) to share their successful crew repatriation achievements, irrespective of whether they are in-house or third party. There is a table with details of the nationalities of seafarers who have been relieved.

The European Commission publishes a package of guidelines and recommendations to help EU Member States gradually lift travel restrictions and allow tourism businesses to reopen (link).

The European Commission’s Tourism and Transport package includes:

  • An overall strategy towards recovery in 2020 and beyond;
  • A common approach to restoring free movement and lifting restrictions at EU internal borders in a gradual and coordinated way;
  • A framework to support the gradual re-establishment of transport whilst ensuring the safety of passengers and personnel;
  • A recommendation which aims to make travel vouchers an attractive alternative to cash reimbursement for consumers;
  • Criteria for restoring tourism activities safely and gradually and for developing health protocols for hospitality establishments such as hotels.

11 May 2020:

IMO issuedCircular Letter No.4204/Add.16 (6 May 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID 19) – COVID-19 related guidelines for ensuring a safe shipboard interface between ship and shore-based personnel.

Paris MoU guidance on COVID-19 updated and available for the industry, 8 May (link). The existing “temporary guidance to accept extensions of ships’ certificates with three months” has been reconsidered to recognise:

  • It is impossible to predict how long the pandemic will last, nor how a return to ordinary circumstances will be shaped. In view of this, the Paris MoU has considered that a limitation of three months in the guidance may be too short to address the challenges currently being faced and therefore has amended its guidance. Having considered the exceptional circumstances, extensions of the validity of certificates to an appropriate and proportional grace period specific to COVID-19 may be accepted.

The Indian Ocean MoU issued a press release on (link) on 16 Apr, informing of the revision of the earlier guidelines issued via Press Release dated 20th March 2020 with respect to relaxation period mentioned in various scenarios is now to be read as follows: “This pragmatic relaxation / exemptions / dispensations granted by the flag state administration / R.O for an appropriate grace period beyond the relaxation periods permitted under various conventions for surveys, inspections and audits of ships and for certificates / documents of seafarers required as per MLC and STCW conventions specific to situations arising due to outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic should be accepted by the port State authorities. Any vessel beyond this grace period should be treated in the normal manner”

TOKYO MoU issued a press release on 10 Apr to inform of revising the guidance for dealing with the impact of the pandemic of the COVID-19 ( The revised guidance will be effective from 15 April 2020.

08 May 2020:

IMO issued  Circular Letter No.4204/Add.15 on 7 May 2020 (link):

  • Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Personal protective equipment

This Circular Letter provides World Health Organization (WHO) information and guidance on the safe and effective use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to support decisions on use of PPE to minimize the risks of COVID-19 infection for seafarers et al.

06 May 2020:-

IMO issued a Circular Letter No.4204-Add.14 (link to download) on 5 May 2020, informing maritime administrations, national authorities, and shipping companies of the Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Recommended framework of protocols is proposed to IMO by ICS, IAPH, BIMCO, IFSMA, INTERTANKO, P&I Clubs, CLIA, INTERCARGO, InterManager, IPTA, IMCA, INTERFERRY, FONASBA, ITF and WSC, and taking account of input from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The protocols with a 12-step solution set out the responsibility of governments, shipowners, transport providers, and seafarers. The 12-step solution provides governments with the global framework to facilitate changeovers of ships’ crews, including the lack of available flights and to assist governments to put in place coordinated procedures to facilitate the safe movement of seafarers. The 55-page document is a roadmap to free seafarers from their COVID-19 lockdown and allow appropriate exemptions for them to join or leave ships. It has been advanced by a broad coalition of seafarer unions, and international shipping industry associations, with input from airline industry representatives, international organisations, and the insurance sector, to provide a comprehensive blueprint of how governments can facilitate crew changeovers and resolve safety concerns throughout the entire process.

There is another useful document, the COVID-19 Related Guidelines for Ensuring a Safe Shipboard Interface between Ship and Shore-Based Personnel, issued by ICS, IAPH, BIMCO, IACS, IMPA, IFSMA, INTERTANKO, IG P&I, CLIA, INTERCARGO, InterManager, IPTA, FONASBA, WSC, IMEC and ISOA on 6 May 2020 (link to download).


28 April 2020:-

INTERCARGO Media Release: Crew Change for ‘Key Workers’ at Sea Must be Top of the Industry’s Agenda  (link)


IMO issued following Circular Letters:

  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.11 (link), dated 24 April 2020, informing of the EC Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships;
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.12 (link), dated 27 April 2020, informing of the Declaration by Port Authorities Roundtable (PAR) members in view of the global COVID-19 situation.


24 Apr 2020:-

The Mission To Seafarers has set up a donation webpage (link) to raise funds to support their on-line chaplaincy welfare services to seafarers and responses to the Covid-19 crisis. To download the event leaflet please see this link.

23 Apr 2020:-

In addition to the personal message from IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim to seafarers on 21 April 2020 as posted on the IMO webpage “You are not alone” on 21 Apr (link),

IMO also issued a Circular Letter No.4204/Add.10, dated 22 April 2020 (link), the Joint Statement IMO-WHO-ILO on medical certificates of seafarers, ship sanitation certificates and medical care of seafarers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, with key points as follows:

Medical care of seafarers

Port State must ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore.

ILO is providing information to assist Governments … to take consistent actions under these exceptional circumstances…

… include the need to address the situation of seafarers who, doe to their unforeseen longer periods on board, are facing expiration of essential medical prescriptions and the consideration of the testing of seafarers immediately prior to their joining their ships…

Medical certificates of seafarers

If a medical certificate expires during the course of a voyage, then it shall continue to be valid until the next port of call where a medical practitioner …is available, provided that the additional time needed does not exceed three months.

Port State control authorities are further encouraged to take a pragmatic and practical approach in relation to the acceptance of these certificates in the exercise of control procedures …

Ship Sanitation Certificates – Extraordinary temporary measures

Governments are invited to request the submission of the Maritime Declaration of Heath by all arriving ships. In the absence of information of valid suspicion or confirmed active case(s) of COVID-19 on board reported through the Maritime Declaration of Heath, or their agents in accordance with Article 28(4) of the International Health Regulation (IHR) (2005), issuing Administrations are encouraged to accept an exceptional extension of the Ship Sanitation Certificates, and to notify shipowners, seafarers and relevant Administrations accordingly. They may:

  • Provide for the extension of an existing Ship Sanitation Certificate by one month… on one or more occasions as necessary,…

21 Apr 2020:-

ILO and IMO, along with the European Commission, have stated that Seafarers should be officially recognized as key workers and granted exemptions from travel restrictions so they can join and leave their ships and return home without impediment, while complying with infection control.

ICS and ITF have jointly prepared letter templates (click here to downloadto facilitate free movement for seafarers to and from vessels, aiming to assist facilitation of free movement for seafarers to and from vessels.

They recommend that shipping companies use this template which, once fully completed and on company headed paper, should be given to affected seafarers.

The letter certifies that a seafarer should be allowed free passage to travel between their home and their vessel and has participated in a medical screening.

Other infomation:

  • WHO Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19, Interim guidance, 6 April 2020 (Link)
  • WHO Measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 (Link)
  • COVID-19 Offshore Handbook, ACTA MARINE BV, (Link), Including:
    • What to do if there is a sick person onboard suspected of COVID-19?
    • Crew change
  • North of England P&I Dealing with ship visitors and social distancing (Link)

20 April 2020:-

Joint WCO-IMO statement on the integrity of the global supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic

On 17 Apr, the World Customs Organization (WCO) website posted the Joint WCO-IMO statement (link). IMO issued a Circular Letter No.4204-Add.9 informing of the same (link).

WCO has created a dedicated section in its website and included the following existing and newly developed instruments and tools relevant to the integrity and facilitation of the supply chain in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Resolution of the Customs Cooperation Council on the Role of Customs in Natural Disaster Relief;
  • Guidelines to Chapter 5 of Specific Annex J to the International Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures, as amended (Revised Kyoto Convention);
  • Annex B.9 to the Convention on Temporary Admission (Istanbul Convention);
  • Istanbul Convention Handbook;
  • Harmonized System (HS) Classification reference for COVID-19 medical supplies;
  • List of national legislation of countries that have adopted temporary export restrictions on certain categories of critical medical supplies in response to COVID-19; and
  • List of WCO Members’ practices in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

16 April 2020:-

EMSA has created a single point of reference (link) which lists the information of the safe transportation of goods and people on board a vessel provided by the EU Member State.

IMO issued a Circular Letter No.4204-Add.8 on 14 Apr 2020 (link), informing that the Head of IMO held a video meeting with 10 port State control (PSC) regimes on 8 April 2020 with a view to promoting harmonized action, assistance and a pragmatic approach with respect to PSC inspections at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Circular Letter No.4204-Add.8 summarised the outcome of the meeting, including statements and/or relevant temporary guidance Issued by following PSC regimes:

  • USCG: Vessel Inspection, Exams, and Documentation
  • The Acuerdo De Viña Del Mar (Latin American Agreement on PSC): Provisional Guidance to fact the impact of Covid-19 with regard to IMO Conventions and MLC 2006
  • The Caribbean MoU: Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the Covid-19
  • Indian Ocean MoU: Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the Covid-19 related to relevant IMO Conventions and MLC 2006
  • Mediterranean MoU: Med MoU on PSC Circular regarding COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Paris MoU: Guidance regarding the impact of COVID-19
  • Tokyo MoU: (i) Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the Covid-19, and (ii) Revising the Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the Covid-19

15 April 2020:-

WHO guidance – Handling cargo from affected countries (download link 1 and link 2)

The rationalized use and distribution of PPE when handling cargo from and to countries affected by the COVID-19 outbreak includes following these recommendations.

  • Wearing a mask of any type is not recommended when handling cargo from an affected country.
  • Gloves are not required unless they are used for protection against mechanical hazards, such as may occur when manipulating rough surfaces.
  • Importantly, the use of gloves does not replace the need for appropriate hand hygiene, which should be performed frequently, as described above.
  • When disinfecting supplies or pallets, no additional PPE is required beyond what is routinely recommended. To date, there is no epidemiological information to suggest that contact with goods or products shipped from countries affected by the COVID-19 outbreak have been the source of COVID-19 disease in humans. WHO will continue to closely monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak and will update recommendations as needed.

Notes: it is assumed that the terms of  “masks” and “groves” here in the WHO guidance are for the sole purpose of protection from COVID-19 and if no other reasons, eg cargo handling, dictate their use.


Charity group The Mission to Seafarers has launched a virtual challenge campaign called Global Champions Unite to raise awareness of the plight of seafarers and the funds to contribute towards a new digital chaplaincy welfare service to help support seafarers during the unprecedented international Covid-19 crisis. The Mission to Seafarers invites all of us to take part in the campaign in whatever capacity we can. Campaign website: To become a fundraiser or donate click this link.

For more details please download the leaflet here.

In the first few days The Mission to Seafarers has raised 10% of their target from nearly 70 donors and the charity gourp would greatly appreciate any help in spreading the word about the campaign to wider network.

All proceeds will be distributed through the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN)  ISWAN has agreed to ringfence the funding to ensure that 100% of the funds will be distributed to those seafarers and families in need.

The campaign is supported by ISWAN, the World Ocean Council (WOC), the Nautical Institute, Green Marine, the North American Marine Environment Protection Association (NAMEPA) and the International Windship Association (IWSA).

14 Apr 2020:-

1. Experience sharing

To assess the level of impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on crew changes and to guide our focused actions, comments and suggestions are requested from members, on issues such as:

  • Crew Change – Crew cannot sign off even in their country (say PRC crew in PRC at all ports), despite the fact they completed SEA+1 months which is 10 months for Ratings; ports?
  • PRC Crew who have completed 12 months (max as per MLC) and ship who has never been to China cannot get off at ports of some countries such as Singapore. Any other countries?
  • Crew getting infected during port interface with Covid-19 and inability to replace crew with countries in lockdown and no flights, no permission to enter, though relief crew standing by. Ports and Countries?
  • Vessel sold and can’t be delivered as per MoA as crew visa for disembarkation on delivery cannot be issued. Known cases?
  • Advance declaration of health for crew with slightest symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, running nose, diarrhoea. Once Masters report it and vessel lose time in quarantine (say anywhere from 2 to 14 days). Experience sharing?
  • Ship Sanitation Exemption Certificates expired and no free pratique. Delay awaiting quarantine inspection. Experience sharing?
  • any information regarding crew members undergoing testing or who have tested positive for COVID-19.  It is important for us to be able to track the number of crew affected on all ships and to report this to WHO and IMO to ensure appropriate measures are adopted.
  • issues faced in procuring necessary medical supplies.
  • any other employment concerns particularly in relation to crew change issues, and discrimination relating to crew nationality.
  • any other issues arising in relation to the outbreak to be raised at an international level.

2. Joint ICS – ITF letter to G20

INTERCARGO appreciates and supports the initiative of Joint ICS – ITF letter to G20 (link) which is:

  • calling on all Governments to identify ports in their countries, and appropriate airports nearby, from where crew changes can be resumed as soon as possible, and to inform IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization accordingly.
  • calling on Governments, in the event of medical emergencies, to provide visiting seafarers with access to emergency medical treatment ashore and, if necessary, to facilitate emergency repatriation as required by the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006
  • requesting as a matter of urgency, that national authorities should engage immediately with their national shipowners’ association, seafarers’ unions and other relevant stakeholders, in order to explore solutions to the serious problem of conducting crew changes, which otherwise risks impeding collective efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic whilst also allowing global supply chains to continue to function.
  • suggesting that the establishment of a special G20 taskforce on the issue of ships’ crew changes would add greatly to an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

3. Additional info

An Information note at Annex 2 is from the International Labour Organisation (–en/index.htm). This contains FAQs received by the ILO legal department relating to the MLC 2006 and COVID-19.

A new portal is produced by Helse Bergen. NCMDM and Radio Medico Norway have developed an interactive, internet based COVID-19 assessment tool aimed at helping seafarer’s on board to assess sick crew members or others on board. It also gives guidance on treatment of possible cases of COVID-19 including warning signs to look out for and advice on when to contact TMAS services. This is freely available to all and can be accessed at


09 Apr 2020:-

ILO website published the following on 7 Apr 2020:

Information note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus (COVID-19) (link)

  • Including a joint statement of the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, as amended

This information note aims to respond to such requests by referring to the MLC, 2006, the work of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), a statement of the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee of the MLC, 2006, (STC) and, when relevant, the recommendations published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).


The European Commission (EC) posted Guidelines for persons on board ships:

  • Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships, dated 08 April 2020 (link)

06 Apr 2020:

In the last few days, IMO has issued 20+ circular letters informing of the measures and arrangement of 20+ flag States in dealing with inspection, certificates, crew change, etc. Here is the IMO’s webpage summarising and providing download links to all the relevant circular letters, including:

Other popular websites include:


30 March 2020:

IMO: Preliminary list of recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID-19 pandemic  – please refer to IMO Circular Letter No.4204-Add.6


IMO once again urges a practical and pragmatic approach

Further to the Circular Letter No.4204-Add.1 – Covid-19 – Implementation and Enforcement of Relevant IMO Instruments on 19 Feb, IMO issued another circular letter No.4224, dated 19 March 2020, once again urging a practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.

It highlights that:

  • “One of the goals of IMO, as stated in its Convention, is to ensure availability of shipping services to the commerce of the world, for the benefit of humanity”. … “all IMO Member States” are urged “to bear this in mind when framing their policy decisions with regard to the coronavirus. Defeating the coronavirus must be the first priority, but global trade, in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner must be able to continue, too”.
  • “We must also remember the hundreds of thousands of seafarers on ships. They are, unwittingly, on the front line of this global calamity. Their professionalism ensures that the goods we all need are delivered – safely and with minimal impact on our precious environment. These are people, usually far from home and family. Their own health and welfare is as important as that of anyone else”.

The Secretary General of IMO will personally be initiating a series of meetings and consultations with leaders from shipping, ports and other key related sectors so that we can all better understand the issues being faced and develop sensible, practical and unified solutions.

You may refer to updates on IMO’s website at:

Guidance on the prevention and control of COVID-19 on board

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4221 on 18 Mar 2020 with the Guidance on the prevention and control of COVID-19 on board.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) – Guidance Relating to the Certification of Seafarers

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204-Add.5 on 17 Mar 2020, encouraging:

  1. Flag States to take a pragmatic and practical approach with regard to the extension of the following certificates and endorsements, as strictly necessary:
  • Revalidation of training certificates of seafarers, including medical certificates
  • Issuance of endorsements attesting recognition of certificates in accordance with the STCW Convention 1978, as amended.

2. Port State control authorities to take a pragmatic and practical approach in relation to these certificate and endorsement extensions, and their acceptance in the exercise of control procedures in accordance with article X (Control) and regulation I/4 (Control procedures) of the 1978 STCW Convention, as amended.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

ITF issued a circular “ITF E-Circular No. 087/D/F/IN/S/SS/2020” on 17 Mar 2020, informing that:

  • ITF has also learned that most flags have been issuing exemptions from the maximum service periods prescribed within the Maritime Labour Convention (Regulation 2.5 Standard A2.5.1 para 2(b)).
  • In order to mitigate problems surrounding the replacement of crew, the ITF has decided that during the period from 17 March 2020 to 16 April 2020, it will not challenge extensions of contracts of up to one month, even when these push the seafarers service periods past the maximum allowable by relevant ITF approved CBA [or MLC], provided individual seafarers consent to such extensions

International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) 

IMEC, referring to the ITF Circular No.087, issued its “Circular (20)20“, commenting that:

  • IMEC has been in discussions with the ITF […] in light of the mounting logistical difficulties our Members are facing when arranging crew reliefs due to the spread of the virus and the closure of many national borders (Philippines, Ukraine, Italy, France, Germany, USA to name a few).
  • We can now report that our social partners have agreed to exercise some flexibility and join most flag states in allowing extensions that go beyond both the CBA and the MLC maximum lengths for at least the next 30 days.

IMO reiterates principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay on port entry to ships

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 on 19 Feb 2020, reiterating principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay on port entry to ships:

  • “in the current context of the outbreak, to ensure that, where appropriate, passengers can be embarked and disembarked, cargo operations can occur, ships can enter and depart shipyards for repair and survey, stores and supplies can be loaded, certificates can be issued and crews can be exchanged”.

The same Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 also informs of the message of ILO:

  • “In the context of the evolving coronavirus outbreak, the effective protection of the health and safety of seafarers should be a priority. Under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board. The Convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore.”

Flag State actions

INTERCARGO Members are encouraged to liaise with the flag States of your fleet and check for the latest update from them.

The flag States of your fleet may have sent you their notice about their “pragmatic and harmonized approach”. For instance, the Marine Advisory 07/2020 of Liberia, dated 24 Feb 2020, recognises potential difficulties faced by shipowners and requests that:

  • “Shipowners and Operators who are or may be experiencing difficulties should contact the Administration immediately for assistance when the Inspector, Auditor or Surveyor is unable to attend.”

IMO Circular Letter No.4226 dated 20 Mar 2020, informing of the flexible arrangement of Canada on: “Extending the Validity of Canadian Marine Personnel Certificates.”

IMO Circular Letter No.4228 dated 23 March 2020, informing of arrangements taken the Netherlands on:

  • Survey and Certification of ships flying the Dutch flag
  • Joining and Repatriation of seafarers from ships
  • Exemptions to the Minimum Safe Manning Document (MSMD)
  • Issue or Revalidation of a Dutch Certificate of Competency (CoC) or a Certificate of Proficiency (CoP) for tankers, Polar Code or IGF
  • Dutch Seaman’s Book
  • Certificates of Proficiency (CoP) for ratings
  • Issue of a Recognition of a Certificate of Competency where a seafarer is unable to disembark the ship
  • Seafarers with expired Certificates of Proficiency (= safety training)
  • Seafarers who are onboard a ship beyond their Seafarer Employment Agreement (SEA) for reasons connected to COVID-19
  • Port State Control

IMO Circular Letter No.4230 dated 24 Mar 2020, informing of the flexible arrangement of Panama on:

  • Crew change
  • Extension of Seafarers employment Agreement
  • Extension of Seafarers Certificates including Certificates of Endorsement

IMO Circular Letter No.4232 dated 24 Mar 2020, informing of similar measures implemented by:

  • Georgia;
  • The Republic of Poland; and
  • Ukraine

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) posted Temporary revalidation requirements for international certificates of competency on 27 to extend seafarer certificates for up to six months on its website.

PSC actions

  1. Tokyo MoU

On the Tokyo MoU website, it issues guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the COVID-19. It says:

  • member Authorities of the  Tokyo  MOU  have  agreed  to  adopt  guidance for  dealing  with  the  circumstances (such  as  extending  periods of  service  onboard  of  seafarers,  delaying  periods  for  surveys, inspections and audits, etc.) in a pragmatic and harmonized approach.
  • In accordance  with  the  guidance,  the port  State  Authority should  request  the operator concerned to confirm  that  flag  State  and/or  RO,  relevant  seafarers  organizations  (if  appropriate) have been involved in the process. For consideration of the request by the port  State  Authority,  operators/companies  concerned  should  provide  a  plan  or  process containing equivalent solutions to address the COVID-19 situation and letters of dispensation or exemption by the flag State or RO, under which the period of gracefor delaying surveys, inspections or audits should be no more than three months, in accordance with the relevant regulations of conventions.

2) Indian Ocean MoU

Indian Ocean MoU issued two circulars on 20 Mar 2020 (, with one dealing with issues of  extending  periods  of  crew service  on  board  ships  under MLC and the other with the requirements of the surveys, inspections and audits under SOLAS, as follows:

  1. Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the COVID-19 relating to MLC 2006, Circular Letter No. 1/2020, dated 20.03.2020

Considering the issue  of  extending  periods  of  service  on  board  ships  and  accepting that  there  may  be  a need  to  apply  flexibility  under  the  circumstances, requests would be considered on a case by case basis by the relevant port State:

  • The port State should request the operator of the ship confirm that the flag State and relevant seafarer organisations (if applicable) have been involved in the process.
  • When  advising  the  port  State  of  the  need  to  extend  periods  on  board,  the  operator  should provide  a  plan  or  process  that  covers  how  variations  to  the  MLC  requirements  would  be managed.
  1. Guidance for dealing with impact of the outbreak of the COVID-19 relating to relevant IMO Conventions, Circular Letter No. 2/2020, dated 20.03.2020

As  a  general  principle  the  following  guidelines  would  be applied on a case by case basis by the relevant port State Authority:

  • In the event that a ship has not complied with, the ship  must  provide  evidence  to  the  port  State  that  the  flag  State  has  agreed  to  an  exceptional delay specific to COVID-19. There should also be evidence that the ship has a plan that covers how the ship will be brought back into the regular survey or audit cycle.
  • This pragmatic relaxation of requirements should be applied by port States on ships which have exceeded the requirements by not more than three months. Any vessel beyond the grace period of three months should be treated in the normal manner.

3) Paris MoU

The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Paris MoU) has developed temporary guidance for its Member Authorities during the COVID-19 crisis. The guidance recognises that there is a need to apply flexibility under these special circumstances, as stated on its webpage on 26 Mar 2020.

As reported at, the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), a member of Paris MoU, issued a statement confirming the indefinite suspension of PSC inspections and vessel surveys in this country, as well as its willingness to extend both vessel and seafarer certificates where necessary to keep cargo and lifeline ferry services operational.


USCG Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB No. 09-20) dated 26 Mar 2020, informs that:

“The Coast Guard will not issue deficiencies or detain vessels for expired certificates, documents or mariner credentials until October 1, 2020.”

Operational considerations

Please refer to the 17 March 2020 Media Release of INTERCARGO titled “Coronavirus poses major challenges for seafarers on merchant ships from increasing restrictions imposed by port stateshere.

On 2 Mar 2020, the IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.3 informed of the Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak onboard ships, prepared by WHO.

On 5 Mar 2020, another IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.4 informed of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers, prepared by the International Chamber of Shipping in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

WHO keeps updating the development on a webpage with Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and a webpage Situation Dashboard.

With countries across the globe announcing new restrictions on ship visit and crew shore leave, it becomes a complex task to get a timely update of new restrictions. To help make this easier Wilhelmsen Ships Service has produced the online “Coronavirus – Global Port Restrictions Map”. By clicking on ports or countries on the map users can view restrictions in each location.

There is another useful webpage created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins, with a summary of providing location and the number of cases. It shows a live real-time, interactive map of the spread of the virus.

Many P&I Clubs collect and maintain all relevant updates of regional requirements to prevent and restrict the speed of the COVID-19 virus. Members are invited to contact the Clubs of their fleet for additional advice.


An IMO Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1, dated 19 Feb 2020, urges Flag State authorities, port State authorities and control regimes, companies and shipmasters to cooperate, in the current context of the outbreak, to ensure that, where appropriate, passengers can be embarked and disembarked, cargo operations can occur, ships can enter and depart shipyards for repair and survey, stores and supplies can be loaded, certificates can be issued and crews can be exchanged. The principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay on port entry to ships, persons and property on board are contained in articles I and V and section 6 of the annex to IMO’s Facilitation Convention.

References in drafting a Contingency Plan Onboard – full list of the IMO Circular Letters on Coronavirus (COVID-19):

Circular Letter No.4203 – Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), 31 Jan 2020

Circular Letter No.4203/Add.1 – Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), 13 Feb 2020

Circular Letter No.4204 – Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), 31 Jan 2020

Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 – COVID-19 – Implementation and enforcement of relevant IMO instruments, 19 Feb 2020

Circular Letter No.4204/Add.2 – Joint Statement IMO-WHO on the Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak, 21 Feb 2020

Circular Letter No.4204/Add.3 – Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships, 3 Mar 2020 (WHO Advice, 24 Feb 2020)

Circular Letter No.4204/Add.4 – ICS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers, 6 Mar 2020

Circular Letter No.4204-Add.5 – Coronavirus (Covid-19) – Guidance Relating To The Certification Of Seafarers

Circular Letter No.4221 – the Guidance on the prevention and control of COVID-19 on board.