As the nation grapples with school closures, business closures, and limits on social contact associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, maritime industries are not immune. The U.S. Coast Guard issued Marine Safety Information Bulletin 06-20 over this past Friday, reminding vessel operators of their responsibility to report ill crew or passengers to both the Coast Guard and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Illness of a person onboard a vessel that may adversely affect the safety of a vessel or port is a hazardous condition per 33 CFR 160.216 and the owner, agent, master, operator, or person in charge must immediately notify the nearest Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COTP). It is critical to report persons who exhibit symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or other illness to the COTP. 42 CFR 71.1 defines an ill person onboard a vessel as one that has:
(A) Fever (has a measured temperature of 100.4 °F [38 °C] or greater; or feels warm to the touch; or gives a history of feeling feverish) accompanied by one or more of the following:
difficulty breathing or suspected or confirmed pneumonia,
persistent cough or cough with bloody sputum,
decreased consciousness or confusion of recent onset,
new unexplained bruising or bleeding (without previous injury),
persistent vomiting (other than sea sickness)
headache with stiff neck;
(B) Fever that has persisted for more than 48 hours;
(C) Acute gastroenteritis, which means either:
diarrhea, defined as three or more episodes of loose stools in a 24-hour period or what is above normal for the individual, or
vomiting accompanied by one or more of the following: one or more episodes of loose stools in a 24-hour period, abdominal cramps, headache, muscle aches, or fever (temperature of 100.4 °F [38 °C] or greater);
Read Marine Safety Information Bulletin 06-20 in its entirety for more information on how to report an illness aboard and additional requirements. Go to https://homeport.uscg.mil/ for a port directory and contact information for each port.
Discovery Health, LLC has produced a COVID-19 onboard procedures manual for vessel operators to help ensure the health of their crews and prevent the transmission of new infections. The manual covers preparation, crew education, identification of potential COVID-19 infections, and how to respond to a suspected infection.
The procedures manual, as it is generally applicable to vessels of any size, although some of the recommendations will be more easily accomplished on larger vessels. In addition, Discovery Health has produced a decision tree or algorithm to guide you through the assessment of an ill crewmate. Links for both documents are below.
The virus that causes the COVID-19 illness has never before been encountered by human beings and no one is immune from infection. As the virus can be transmitted before an infected individual feels or appears to be sick, every social interaction is a potential point of transmission. An infected person may not show symptoms for up to two weeks; well into a commercial fishing trip or voyage and a long distance from shore. For this reason, we urge you to follow the current CDC guidance on preventing COVID-19 infection and we hope that the information provided helps to keep you and your crew healthy and safe.