UPDATE FROM THE SEAMEN’S CHURCH INSTITUTE ON COVID-19 CREW RESTRICTIONS

Apr 7, 2020

UPDATE FROM THE SEAMEN’S CHURCH INSTITUTE ON COVID-19 CREW RESTRICTIONS

Many ports around the world have imposed COVID-19 related restrictions on ships entering their ports and on ships and seafarers in their ports. The main sources of COVID-19 related restrictions in United States ports are contained in four Presidential Proclamations and in Coast Guard Maritime Safety Information Bulletins.

The Presidential Proclamations restricted entry into the United States by persons who, during the prior 14 days, have been in China (except Macau and Hong Kong), Iran, Schengen Area European countries, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. The entry restrictions do not apply, however, to seafarers who have valid transit or crewmember visas. The proclamations do not prohibit crew changes or seafarers from going ashore in the United States, provided the seafarers have valid visas.

The Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety Information Bulletin, MSIB: 02-20 (Change 3), allows ships that have been to one of the countries listed in the Presidential Proclamations during the previous 14 days to enter United States ports and conduct normal operations - so long as there are no sick crewmembers on board. Crewmembers on the ships must, however, remain on board the vessel except to perform specific duties related to cargo handling or provisioning. Foreign crewmembers must also be authorized to leave the ship by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Ships or crew that have visited the listed countries with in the past 14 days and have sick persons aboard must coordinate with the Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP) and local health authorities before being allowed to enter a United States port.

Ships bound for a United States port must provide a Notice of Arrival to the Coast Guard at least 96 hours prior to arrival. If the Notice of Arrival contains concerns about sick persons on the vessel, the Coast Guard will refer the concerns to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Quarantine Station. CDC will then coordinate with local health authorities. The CDC requires ships enroute to a United States port to immediately report any death on board or any illness on board, including suspected cases of COVID-19 to the CBC Quarantine Station.

In practice, when a ship arrives at the Port of NY/NJ with no sick crew aboard after having been at or having a crewmember on board who has been at a port in one of the countries listed in the Presidential Proclamations within the prior 14 days, COTP New York will issue a COTP order to the vessel’s master to detain the crew until the 15th day. Similarly, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will issue an I-259 order to the master of the vessel to detain the crew until the 15th day. CBP will conduct an immigration inspection of the vessel on or after the 15th day and formally grant entry to eligible crewmembers. The Coast Guard and CBP have allowed crew to leave the ship perform specific duties related to cargo handling or provisioning before the 15th day.

Although seafarers may be allowed by CBP and Coast Guard to go ashore, few do so because of shipboard or company policies to protect crew from COVID-19. CBP immigration inspections are often conducted at the ship’s gangway at the master’s request to protect the crew from exposure to COVID-19. Working with ships’ agents, CBP allows crew changes in New York, but few have occurred for a variety of reasons, including the scarcity of international flights from New York area airports and entry restrictions in seafarers’ home countries.

Douglas Stevenson, Esq.
Center for Mariner Advocacy
Port Newark International Seafarers’ Center
The Seamen’s Church Institute

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