Coronavirus Outbreak Prompts Stringent Screening Of Crews, Special Chartering Clause

The coronavirus outbreak is taking its toll on the maritime industry, with ports worldwide seeking additional information on seafarers’ health and ship owners insisting on a special clause in charter party agreements, or CPAs, and a few even reluctant to call at Chinese ports.

This could potentially delay shipments and subsequent voyages, as well as add to the cost of delivered commodities across the world, market sources said.

In the dirty tanker market, some Japanese owners are trying to get a “virus” clause inserted into CPAs to ensure there is proper inspection of crew at concerned terminals, a Tokyo-based shipbroker said. This was time-consuming and involved a cost, which owners want to be put on the charterers’ account, the source said.

However, most owners continue to call at Chinese ports, but with stringent health checks for crew members.

Most market participants said the shipping industry could not afford to ignore China as a destination or origin lest they be left without any cargoes.

This is particularly true in the clean tanker segment, where China is a major exporter of oil products.

In the dirty segment, a large portion of the crude supply to China is on VLCCs owned or controlled by Chinese companies under Contracts of Affreightment, but for refined products, it is widely scattered, with owners from dozens of countries sending ships to the country.

As a result, most port authorities are currently opting for tight regulation of all tonnage and crew moving in and out of Chinese ports.

A form has to be filled in detailing the health of the crew on board, among other details, and submitted to the local government’s office, a shipbroker in Seoul said.

In the UAE, all arriving ships have to complete in advance the Maritime Declaration of Health form to confirm that all crew on board are healthy and any concerns regarding their health must be reported immediately to the Petroleum Ports Authority, according to charterers dealing with the UAE.

In Kuwait, only ships coming directly from last port or transiting from China must provide a statement on whether any crew on board has a high temperature, sore throat, coughing or breathing difficulties, maritime sources said. Such ships have to drop anchor outside port limits, where the Port Medical Officer will board to check the crew for symptoms before clearing the ship for berthing and other operations, they said.

Unless the ship gets the requisite clearance, there will no disembarkation, supply of store provisions and other services, they added.

Such checks and clearances will add to costs and demurrage may be incurred once the notice of readiness is given, a chartering executive said.

He noted that unless the spread of coronavirus was controlled, such inspection and regulation would increase in coming weeks, adding to the delivered cost of commodities.

The potential for legal disputes over who bears the costs incurred cannot be ruled out, a broker in Singapore said.

Australian ports are asking for a declaration from ship masters that there no sick crew members on board. A few ports have an amended pilot pre-arrival form with questions asking if the ship has been to China and if all crew are healthy.

Some market sources said Hong Kong was not accepting ships that have called at Chinese ports and those with Chinese crew on board. Platts has seen an email from one of the largest shipping agencies in China advising its clients that ships showing the last port of call as China along with Chinese crew are not allowed at Hong Kong.

India’s busy Mumbai port in an advisory said crew members who have visited China in the past month, as well as vessels coming from China with Chinese crew, will not be issued a shore permit. Indian pilots will board ships originating from China and Southeast Asia wearing protective clothing, according to the advisory.