US orders vessel crew restrictions in wake of coronavirus

Commercial ship crews who have been to China within the past 14 days — or who are working on a ship that has been in China within the same period — will be required to remain aboard the vessel upon entering the United States except to conduct activities directly related to cargo or provisioning operations.

In a marine safety bulletin issued by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) on Monday, the agency also warned that passenger vessels, or any vessel carrying passengers, that have been to China or embarked passengers who have been in China within the past 14 days will be denied entry into the United States. The directive does not apply to crews, passengers or ships that have been to Hong Kong or Macau.

“The Coast Guard considers it a hazardous condition … if a crewmember who was in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau) within the past 14 days is brought onboard the vessel during transit,” the bulletin stated. “This requires immediate notification to the nearest Coast Guard Captain of the Port,” it noted, adding that the temporary measures “are in place to safeguard the American public.”

The precautions from the country’s top maritime regulator follow declarations on Thursday by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that China’s coronavirus outbreak is considered a public health emergency.

On Friday, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation stating that beginning Feb. 2, any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been to China’s Hubei Province during the previous 14 days would be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine “to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening,” according to HHS.

As China struggles to contain the outbreak, resulting factory and logistics hub shutdowns in the country are constricting global supply chains. In the maritime sector, the slowdown in freight activity is prompting major ocean carriers to cancel sailings.

U.S. regulations require the master of a ship destined for a U.S. port to report to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) any sick or deceased crew or passengers during the 15 days prior to arrival at a U.S. port. U.S.-flagged commercial vessels are also advised to report ill crewmembers in accordance with the requirements of each foreign port called upon.

The USCG said it will continue to review all vessel Notices of Arrival in accordance with current policies “and will communicate any concerns stemming from sick or deceased crew or passengers to their Coast Guard chain of command and the cognizant CDC quarantine station, who will coordinate with local health authorities.”

The Coast Guard reminded vessel masters on ships calling at U.S. ports to inform USCG boarding teams of ill crewmembers prior to embarking the Coast Guard team, and that boarding teams should verify the type of illnesses with the CDC if concerns arise. It also advised port and terminal operators to review vessel quarantine procedures within their Area Maritime Security Plans.