China: Ships that change crew must produce negative COVID-19 results

Ships berthed at Yangshan port on 12 May 2020 in Shanghai, China. Credit: Zhou You/VCG

Ships calling at Chinese ports need to ensure their crew have tested negative for COVID-19 if the vessels underwent crew change in the 14 days prior to arrival.

This is a new measure announced by China’s Ministry of Transport, General Administration of Customs, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 24 September 2020.

This applies to all ships on international voyages, regardless of the vessels’ flag state.

The notice stated that the new measure aimed to maintain the health of seafarers on international voyages and prevent COVID-19 from being transmitted through seafarers.

Crew members should take a nucleic acid test within three days before boarding the ship. Testing should be carried out in institutions designated or approved by Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.

The ship agent, owner, or manager has to submit the necessary documents to the relevant port officials two weeks before the ship arrives in China. A copy of the certificate of the negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test result must also be kept on board.

Ships that fail to comply with the measures will be denied entry into Chinese ports, and may face criminal prosecution if local COVID-19 outbreaks are traced to such vessels.

Amid growing calls for governments to permit crew change, China said on the same day that it is piloting Qingdao port to facilitate change-overs for international seafarers, with another nine Chinese ports to follow suit.

However, this coincided with two port workers in Qingdao testing positive for COVID-19, after allegedly handling imported frozen seafood that was tainted with the virus.

There have been instances of seafarers transmitting COVID-19 to locals after the ships called at certain ports.

On 15 August, a COVID-19 cluster was discovered in a ship that had arrived in Singapore from India for repairs and bunkering. Subsequently, a technician who entered the vessel to carry out repair works also contracted the potentially fatal respiratory ailment.