Hong Kong limits crew change amid COVID-19 spike

Container ship in Kwai Chung port in Hong Kong. Credit: Iain Masterton/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

In response to calls from medical experts, Hong Kong will suspend international crew change from 29 July after the territory began seeing a record spike in new COVID-19 infections.  

This applies to both cargo and passenger ships. Doctors had suggested that seafarers’ exemption from quarantine could have contributed to the increase in infections, after Hong Kong appeared to have controlled the initial wave of the disease.  

Hong Kong announced further restrictions to curb COVID-19 cases, including wearing of face masks in public and limiting social gatherings to two people, which will take effect on 29 July 2020. The territory reported 145 new COVID-19 cases on 27 July, reaching a new daily high. More than 1,000 infections have been confirmed since early July, a situation that Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung described as worrying. 

Only merchant ships discharging cargoes in Hong Kong will be allowed to change crew, however, the seafarers have to commute straight to the airport from the vessel, or be quarantined for 14 days before travelling. 

Hong Kong’s Marine Department stated that for it to approve the crew change, the operators and agents of such ships must submit the estimated time of arrival (ETA) and estimated time of departure (ETD) of the vessel together with the details of the sign-on and sign-off crew to be changed (including their names and flight schedules) 72 hours prior to the arrival of the vessel. 

All crew members should remain on board the vessels during the stay of the vessels in Hong Kong waters and should not go ashore. 

Off-signing crew members should stay on board the vessel during their stay in Hong Kong and travel directly to the airport for repatriation to their home countries to minimise contact with the local community. 

On-signing crew members should only arrive in Hong Kong when their vessels are berthed in Hong Kong’s port and should get on board immediately upon arrival.

Point-to-point transfers should be arranged by the shipping companies or agents for crew members to and from the vessel. The use of public transport for crew transfer is prohibited. Crew members should wear masks during the entire journey to and from the vessel.

On-signing seafarers must also produce a negative COVID-19 test result, and the test must be carried out by an ISO 15189-accredited laboratory or a laboratory recognised by the government where the laboratory is located.   

The shipping companies and agents should declare on a letter of certification that the crew member concerned has been tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid with the specimen collected within 48 hours prior to boarding the flight to Hong Kong. The letter also needs to include an emergency local contact phone number for prompt contact with the concerned crew in case of an emergency.