The new type of Corona virus, namely the COVID-19, has spread uncontrollably to many countries around the globe since it's the first appearance in Wuhan, China in December 2019. In the wake of this unusual spread, on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) described the epidemic as a "pandemic" and increased the global risk level form "high" to "very high" and declared a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern"
As it affected every industry, the pandemic also took a toll on the maritime industry and caught it off guard. Many countries had to close their ports, albeit temporarily, or take unprecedented measures against cruise ships and freighters approaching their ports. As a part of these measures, many cruise ships were not allowed to enter the ports and their passengers were immediately quarantined.1
Global leaders in container transportation such as MSC, Maersk and CMA-CGM, have reduced their sailings to China which is one of the biggest actors in the world maritime trade. Maersk alone had to cancel more than 50 sailings from and to Asia2 and stopped changing all crews on vessels until April 14.3 Also, on March 3, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) published a handbook with recommendations for ship operators on the protection of the health of seafarers.
The measures taken against Covid-19 in Turkey within the scope of maritime activities were announced on March 14, 2020, by the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Mr Cahit Turan.
The measurers announced by the Minister include the following.
- To gather information from the Turkish or foreign-flagged vessels that about to enter to Turkish ports regarding the last ten ports the vessel has been and if China, Iran, Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore ports are among them, or the vessel has admitted the citizens of aforesaid countries in the last fourteen days, no contact will be allowed with the vessel until the inspection by the Directorate General of Health Services for Borders And Coasts of Turkeyis done within the harbour anchorage and preparation of document stating that there are no obstacles fort he vessel to enter to Turkey by the coastal health authorities
- The vessel arrival notifications, which the vessels should make twenty-four hours before their arrival to Turkish ports, were increased to forty-eight hours.
The measures announced by Minister Turan on March 14 were followed by the measures conveyed in the letter titled "Seafarers' Transactions and Corona Virus (COVID-19) Precautions" which was sent to the port authorities and seafarers commission by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure on 17 March.
These measures include the following:
- Applications made in person to the port authorities related to all seafarer operations will be accepted only on Fridays and on other days of the week, they will be received through the Seafarers' Electronic Application System.
- Also, upon the determination that the seafarers who want to make an appointment for the exams have come from abroad in the last fourteen days, they will not be given an appointment, and among the ones who already have an appointment, those who have been abroad from the last fourteen days will not be admitted to the exams, provided that the exam rights are reserved.
- Furthermore, as a part of new measures, the venue capacities set for seafaring exams were reduced by half and amateur seaman and the short-distance radio operator proficiency training and exams were suspended until the next instruction.
One of the most prominent measures seems to be the one regarding Turkish seafarers whose qualifications, seafarer's wallets and STCW documents have already expired while on board.
The validity of the documents of those who cannot return to Turkey due to virus measures will be extended for three months from the date of expiration upon the application to the port authorities by the shipowner or operator with a petition including a copy of the employment contract, regardless of whether the ship is Turkish or foreign-flagged and a document regarding this extension will be given to the ones concerned.
Surely the maritime industry should carefully evaluate the current situation and take the necessary precautions considering the opinions of the economists who stated that the new Coronavirus has already negatively affected the global economy and trade and brought the globe on a verge of a new economic crisis due to the recession it will cause. Bearing in mind that China, which is pointed as the source of the pandemic, meets more than 40% of the world maritime trade and hosts 7 of the 10 major container ports in the world, it is easy to say that difficult days await the maritime industry. Nevertheless, the upcoming period will be decisive in terms of understanding the extent of the effects of coronavirus on domestic and global maritime trade.
1. "Maersk operates massive container ships. It's cancelled 50 sailings over coronavirus" – https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/20/business/maersk-earnings-coronavirus/index.html
2. "Maersk operates massive container ships. It's cancelled 50 sailings over coronavirus" – https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/20/business/maersk-earnings-coronavirus/index.html
3. "Maersk cancels all crew changes for a month"- https://shippingwatch.com/secure/carriers/Container/article12015213.ece
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