News 26 Aug, 2014

Ebola - Advice to Members

Below is an overview of information and advice received to date from various sources referred to in our Ebola link concerning the issues that may affect Members arising from the recent Ebola virus outbreak.  

Ports issues

With the situation on Ebola outbreak changing almost daily we strongly advise Members to keep in close contact with their local agents prior to arrival at each port of call to ensure they have the most up to date information on any new restrictions or procedures that may be imposed in those places so they are well prepared for any delays or requirement of the ship to be quarantined.

To date there are no restrictions to entry into Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria being the main countries are affected by Ebola. The only restrictions are those posted in our last update:

  • Argentina’s River Plate area – pilots will not be allowed to go on board any vessels coming from ports affected with Ebola until further notice.
  • Brazil  - ANVISA guidelines - all vessels calling at Brazilian ports must present a Maritime Declaration of Health (MDH) to be submitted 12 hours prior to the vessels arrival in port.
  • US Coast Guard bulletin 7 August – all vessels coming to US ports from Ebola affected ports must inform the relevant port authority 15 days prior to arrival if anyone on board has any communicable disease including Ebola.
  • South Africa – stowaways/crew  – greater restrictions and inspections for vessels coming from affected ports to determine if anyone on board is infected. This will cause delays and problems particularly with landing stowaways at these ports.

Crew issues

The main obligations for Members in relation to crew is to provide them with adequate information about the virus and to ensure strict adherence/implementation of the requisite safeguards to minimise the risk of infection.

  • Advice about the Ebola Virus, how it can be caught and how to avoid infection
    1. Ebola is not airborne
    2. Incubation period 2-21 days
    3. direct contact with blood and bodily fluids (stools, urine, saliva, semen) of infected person/corpse
    4. contact with any object contaminated by blood or bodily fluids of any infected person/corpse such as needles, clothes
    5. Persons most at risk of the virus are health workers treating infected patients
  • Crew should be carefully monitored for any signs or symptoms of the Ebola virus particularly after vessel’s departure from an affected port. The main symptoms to look out for are:
    1. Sudden onset of fever
    2. Intense weakness, muscle pain and headaches
    3. vomiting and diarrhoea  
    4. rash, internal and external bleeding
  • Filipino crew POEA circular 11 August. The Philippines Overseas Employment Agency circular sets guidelines to be implemented for any Filipino crew employed on ships trading to affected areas. This includes providing them with safety clothing such as masks, gloves and goggles for use to minimise risk of infection in affected ports. It also disallows Filipino crew changes in ports affected with the Ebola virus and no Filipino crew allowed shore leave at affected ports.
  • Strict adherence to any applicable safeguards to minimise risk of infection to include keeping up to date with any advice notices put out from time to time by health organisations and governmental bodies.  
  • ISPS requirements on unauthorised personnel coming on board should be strictly adhered to whilst a vessel is in an affected port.  
  • Members to give careful consideration to implications of granting shore leave at affected ports.
  • If any crew contract the Ebola virus the vessel should make immediate arrangements to disembark them where possible so that they can receive appropriate medical treatment. This may necessitate the vessel deviating to disembark the crewmember but this will be justifiable as it is to save life.  

It is appreciated that many crew will be extremely concerned about the dangers and whilst the virus is extremely serious Members should allay undue fear as infection may be preventable.

Legal & Contractual issues

Charter Parties

There will be many issues affecting the obligations of owners and charterers under a charter party in relation to trading in the affected areas. The standard charter parties may not have specifically drafted clauses which deal with problems arising from going to ports where there is a risk of contracting illness such as Ebola. Members may therefore have to consider carefully any contracts they enter into as to how the present situation will effect their trade and legal obligations. A number of issues may arise:

Time Charter – the general rule is that the master is obliged to follow the charterer’s orders unless there are safety issues with the vessel or there is an implied or express ‘safe port’ warranty in the charter party which allows a master to refuse to take the vessel to an ‘unsafe port’.  Normally the ‘safe port’ warranty relates to the safety of the vessel and its cargo but there is leading opinion that risks to the crew may render a port ‘unsafe’ even if there is no danger to the vessel or its cargo.  

Voyage Charter – at the time of the charter the charterer has a primary obligation to nominate a port which is ‘prospectively safe'. There are no obligations to change a nominated port if it subsequently becomes ‘unsafe’ unless there is a liberty clause which may allow for the Owner to refuse to take a vessel to a port which is considered ‘unsafe’

Delay and Off Hire – there could be delays at various ports imposing restrictions or additional inspections for vessels coming from Ebola affected ports. Save for any express terms in the charter party, force majeure or subsequent agreement between the parties dealing with this problem a vessel could be put off hire for delays, for example, if the ship is quarantined for a period of time before being allowed to enter a port.

Further information can be found in Ince & Co overview of potential legal issues: Shipping issues arising out of the ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Bills of Lading

Hague and Hague Visby Rules if incorporated into the Bills of Lading may exclude an Owners liability for any damage to cargo due to delay  by the ‘restraint of princes’ exception or alternatively where the ship is quarantined an Owner may rely on the ‘quarantine restrictions’ under Art IV rule 2 (h).

These are complex legal issues and as the above is simply general overview guidance, it is recommended that Members address any queries to their usual claims handlers.