Seafarers have been in touch with the charity Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) calling for greater levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks and gloves to be made more widely available, not just for themselves, but for those maritime workers who come onboard their vessels including surveyors, agents, pilots and stevedores.
On January 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern under the WHO international health regulations, triggering an increased global response to the pandemic, while for seafarers, regulation 4.3 of the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention applies, which covers health and safety protection and accident prevention highlighting that each member shall ensure that seafarers on ships that fly its flag are provided with occupational health protection and live, work and train onboard ship in a safe and hygienic environment.
Worldwide, there is increased detailed reporting of port state measures by the likes of North P&I Club which highlights restrictions and the need for PPE, for example in Australia whereby: “Crew must also use personal protective equipment in public spaces on board the vessel whilst non-crew members are on board.” and in relation to Greece: “During the presence of MOH personnel on board, any crew members within a distance of less than 2 meters must wear all the protective equipment.”
For healthcare workers and infection prevention and control personnel in EU/EEA countries and in the United Kingdom, the minimal composition of a set of PPE for the management of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 as per the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s ‘Guidance for wearing and removing personal protective equipment in healthcare settings for the care of patients with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 dated February 2020, identifies a FFP2 or FFP3 respirator (valved or non-valved version), goggles (or face shield), long-sleeved water-resistant gown and gloves.
In reality, at the present time such high quality PPE may not be widely available, not individually recommended, nor realistic for use by crew, but the trend appears to be that seafarers are wanting to have access to it.
In the UK, Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association was quoted recently, saying: “PPE supplies – sanitiser, masks etc – are beginning to run low in some ports and this may soon start to have a knock-on effect”.
In the recent reported case of the master of the Tomini Destiny refusing to off-load alongside the port of Chittagong, Bangladesh, due to crew concerns over contracting Covid-19 from excessive numbers of allegedly unscreened local stevedores not using PPE, the master asked for PPE to be made available for crew use during ongoing shipboard operations which included gloves and face masks, as well as for remote off-loading by barges away from port wharves.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) issued its Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers on March 3 in line with current UN agency guidances, though this currently advises that: “Although face masks may provide some protection – especially if there is a risk of exposure when interacting with persons from outside the ship – the routine use of face masks is not generally recommended as protection against Covid-19. WHO advises that it is appropriate to use a mask when coughing or sneezing. If an individual is healthy, it is only necessary to wear a mask if the person is taking care of a person with the suspected Covid-19 infection.”
This view is not necessarily shared by frontline seafarers, many of whom have told HRAS in recent weeks that they are wanting greater reassurance for individual levels of protection as the pandemic unfolds, including the individual right to wear PPE such as masks and gloves.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) have consistently highlighted the essential need for seafarers to be properly protected, with the IMHA stating in an online document that there should be “facial protection for all crew (5 pieces /per person)”.
Under UK law, shipowners must provide the requisite PPE at no cost to the employee mariner, while the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “recommends the use of FFP3 respirators when caring for patients in areas where high risk aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) are being performed. When FFP3 respirators are not available, then FFP2 respirators may be used.”