COVID-19 and the Maritime Industry

Exposure…A Potential Security Risk to Vessels
By Corey D. Ranslem

(This article originally appeared in The Triton nautical newspaper:

It isn’t typical for a security columnist to write about a virus or disease outbreak.  However, this column is called [email protected], so understanding the basics of the novel coronavirus outbreak is important to the overall safety and security of any vessel.  Throughout my time in the Coast Guard, we dealt with the common cold or an occasional intestinal viral outbreak onboard our cutters.  One thing I learned very quickly is that if one person got sick onboard several people onboard would have some type of symptoms.  This is true for cargo ships, cruise lines, and large yachts.  Cruise lines have the highest incident of viral outbreaks due to the number and movement of passengers in such a short time period.  You typically don’t see this with large yachts, but it can happen. 

The current situation with the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 as designated by the WHO (World Health Organization) is rapidly changing.  This disease is creates a much different situation than other diseases of similar pathophysiology within the current age.  As of the writing of this column, there are over 76,000 confirmed cases with close to 2600 deaths worldwide and just over 25,000 have completely recovered.  The majority of these cases are located within a large area of central and eastern China;  however, there are several reports and confirmed cases of the disease within other countries including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and several other countries.  Currently there are no reported cases within any of the countries in the Caribbean.  The second largest concentration of cases — with over 651 — is a Princess Cruise ship currently docked in Japan.

When it comes to protecting your vessel — whether security or medical related issues — it always starts with a good foundational plan.  You should have a good medical kit and someone onboard with basic to advanced medical training (depending on the vessels overall location and operations).  It is also a good idea to have some type of medical reach-back service you can access with qualified doctors.  This type of service is great for questions regarding common illnesses all the way to life and death emergency situations.  Medical reach back is a resource that will help protect the vessel for a reasonable cost.  Reach back can also help you set-up an onboard plan when it comes to dealing with medical issues.     

There are several steps recommend by both the WHO and the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control) when it comes to protecting yourself and your vessel from the spread of this virus or any others.  These steps can also be put in place when it comes to dealing with common colds.  The following procedures are recommended:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home or isolated in your cabin when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s and WHO’s recommendations for using a face-mask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

If several crew members contract some type of sickness it could cause potentially major issues with the vessel’s safety and security especially when you are underway.  Keeping your vessel [email protected] involves not only security issues, but safety and medical as well.