The Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) has directed all sea ports to prevent from entering the country any ship whose crew is suspected to be infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
This is part of a raft of directives contained in an urgent circular signed by the Deputy Director General (Operations & Technical), Mr Daniel Appianin, and sent to all port facilities on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
The statement, however, cautioned against panic and overreaction which had the tendency to disrupt trade, violate instruments of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and undermine maritime activities.
Mr Appianin said the economic cost of the virus was steep and the losses colossal, stressing the need, therefore, to ensure that while protecting lives, commerce was not unduly harmed.
Under the circumstances “all port facilities are to ensure, where appropriate, that passengers can embark and disembark, cargo operations can take place, ships can enter and leave shipyards for repair and survey, supplies can be loaded and crews exchanged while observing the strictest safety measures.”
The authority also directed the suspension of services to seafarers for the next two weeks, beginning 16 March, 2020, while internally steps were taken to ensure that the seafarers were served without unduly putting staff at risk.
The range of activities suspended by the authority “includes the physical receipt of applications, biometric capturing leading to the issuance of Certificates of Competency, Certificates of Proficiency, Seafarers Identity Document and Seafarers Discharge books as well as Notice of Eligibility Letters among others.”
The circular said the suspension would be reviewed after the two weeks to determine if the situation warrants an amendment. In the meantime, the authority’s clients are encouraged to use the online services on the authority’s website.
The Director General of the GMA, Mr Thomas K. Alonsi, said the authority was acting in concert with the directives of the president, Nana Akufo-Addo, who at the weekend, issued sweeping restrictions and the IMO guidelines, as part of measures to contain the virus.
With the world facing grim prospects of major economic meltdown, the IMO is keen to avoid large scale disruption of trade and supply of essential goods.
The organization says it is aware of challenges posed to administrators in training of seafarers, revalidation of certificates, including medical certificates and the issuance of endorsements attesting recognition of certificates.
It encourages maritime organizations across the world to adopt “pragmatic and practical approaches with regards to the extension of these certificates and endorsements, as strictly necessary and to notify ships and seafarers accordingly.”
Mr Alonsi said all port state control officers had been mandated to ensure that “certain protocols are observed before they board any ship for inspection because you never know who you are getting into contact with.”
The GMA also issued guidance to ship operators designed to protect the health of seafarers, drawing attention to relevant instruments of the IMO such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 and International Convention on Standards of Training, certification and Watch-keeping for seafarers, 1978.