Fear of increased COVID-19 infections onboard US vessels

COIVD-19 testing kit. Credit: Jarun011 / Adobe Stock

The continued lack of testing for on-signing crew during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a misinterpretation of the US Centre for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) is cause for concern, states a representative of the shipping industry at the US House of representatives.

Michael G. Roberts, senior vice president Crowley Maritime, speaking on behalf of the American Maritime Partnership, a coalition representing the domestic maritime industry, highlighted that the time when crew are more susceptible to infection is during the crew change rotation. “Testing the arriving crew members for active infection is likely the most effective way of screening,” he said.

Many US mariners signing on Jones Act vessels were wrongly denied access to testing since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. “This does not appear to be an accurate interpretation of CDC guidance since at least mid-April, which allows priority access for “workers in congregate living settings” with or without symptoms when “prioritised by health departments or clinicians,” said Roberts.

This lack of testing could lead to further outbreaks of COVID-19 onboard vessels, as experienced on board the warship USS Roosevelt, where two sailors contracted the disease when the vessel visited DaNang, Vietnam on 5 March. Over 100 sailors tested positive onboard the vessel by 31 March.

Roberts stated that there were some State and local health departments that have correctly interpreted the CDC and are carrying out rapid testing for seafarers during crew changes. However, this is limited due to the lack of availability of test kits in certain locations, which is in part based on continued misinterpretation of the CDC guidance.

“This Committee should encourage the Coast Guard, CDC and other government agencies to clarify that mariners at crew changes should have priority access to testing for active infection,” concluded Roberts.