Summarising shipping-related Covid-19 notices and measures
A number of Port Notices, Legal Notices and Merchant Shipping Notices have been issued, aimed at alleviating the concerns of shipowners, managers, operators and seafarers alike, pursuant to the outbreak of Covid-19, without prejudice to the all-important backdrop of safeguarding public health.
The first of such notices, Port Notice no.4 of 2020, requested that all ships provide information of ports of call of affected country/region as required by the Maritime Declaration of Health for vessels to enter port. The ship medical officer was also required to notify the Port Health Medic regarding whether any persons were coming from China within the previous 14 days and whether such persons would embark or disembark.
Subsequently, Port Notice no. 5 of 2020 imposed a temporary ban on the entry of cruise liners and passenger ships into Maltese ports and territorial waters, leaving discretion for the Authority to grant conditional permits for vessels rendering essential services related to the welfare of persons onboard, and the vessel’s safety and security at a designated anchorage.
Merchant Shipping Notice 158 progressed to establish a number of ‘extraordinary measures’ namely:
The extension of sea service beyond the seafarer employment agreement term for a maximum period of three months (extendable), which extension shall be governed by the same terms and conditions of the original agreement;
The extension of the validity of seafarer certificates beyond their expiry date;
The extension/delaying of statutory certificates, surveys, audits and inspections.
These measures serve to counter the difficulties faced by shipowners, managers and operators, and not least of seafarers, as a result of mandatory quarantine, lockdowns, flight bans and port closures, making the repatriation of its seafarers and the performance of statutory audits and inspections, difficult, if not impossible.
A facilitating measure put in place by the Malta Registry pursuant to the closure of its premises is the acceptance of soft copies of mortgage deeds in lieu of the originals, though originals will need to be submitted in due course. Moreover, certain legalisation and apostille requirements are being temporarily waived where the jurisdiction of the source of the documents has suspended legalisation or apostille services.
Legal Notice 92 of 2020 [Travel Ban (Extension to all Countries) Order] which whilst enforcing a travel ban to all persons coming to Malta or leaving from Malta irrespective of source or destination, exempts “cargo ships including container ships and ro-ro vessels carrying goods and essential commodities and tankers loaded with essential fuels” from such travel ban.
However, such exemption was accompanied by Port Notice no.6 of 2020 which by way of precaution disallows crew members from disembarking vessels during the vessel’s time in Maltese waters and ports and moreover, written authorisation must be obtained from the Port Health Medic in order to allow shore personnel (excluding Maritime Pilots, Port Foremen, Port Workers and Terminal Personnel involved in cargo handling operations) to board vessels.
The crew of a bunker barge or service launch and technical personnel such as surveyors and technicians, whilst also required to obtain written authorisation to aboard, will additionally be subject to mandatory quarantine once they disembark.
This Port Notice also specifically instructs for unplanned or accidental contact with third party personnel to be reported to Port Health, and also introduced more general reporting obligations in relation to non-observance of port notices and legal notices.
The latest in measures to assist the shipping industry, is the decision of the Malta Registry announced in Merchant Shipping Notice 160, to defer the due payment date of registration fees and the annual tonnage tax of merchant ships, the anniversary date of which falls on or after 1 April 2020. The deferral is for a period of three months from the said anniversary, whilst the issuance of renewed certificates of registry shall proceed.
The Malta Ship Registry continues to monitor the international situation and adapt new and updated measures in conjunction with the concerns of shipowners and other stakeholders alike, and we’ll keep you updated in this regard.