Russian sanitary measures against COVID-19 expected to cause shipping delays

The Novorossiysk Marine Passenger Terminal at Novorossiysk port, Russia. Credit: Igor OnuchinTASS via Getty Images

Several Russian seaports have begun carrying out the compulsory disinfection procedure on all ships hailing from countries struck with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The compulsory disinfection order was given by Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s federal consumer and welfare agency.

The Port of Novorossiysk began disinfection measures for all ships calling from China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea since 7 March 2020, the seaport administration said. Similar measures have also been applied within the Vladivostok seaport.

However, the Russian Business Consulting (RBC) agency warned that the mandatory process, imposed by Rospotrebnadzor, could cause delays in transshipment operations at Russian seaports. This will primarily affect big ships because their disinfection will take a long time and more resources, RBC added.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a weeklong lockdown, starting 30 March, across the country to slowdown the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, 27 Russian regions, including those with the biggest seaports – St. Petersburg, Murmansk Oblast, and Kaliningrad Krai – have issued self-isolation orders on 31 March, prohibiting citizens from leaving their homes unless necessary.

Putin ordered that the lockdown should not concern the seaports, but logistics and transport companies should close their offices to protect their employees.

Separately, the Ukrainian and Kazakh governments have stepped up their respective measures to combat the COVID-19 threat.

On 5 March, the government of Kazakhstan announced that it was temporarily prohibiting all foreign ships from calling at its Aktau and Kuryk seaports on the Caspian Sea. The enhanced safety regime involved using disinfection agents, which has been also been applied on all ferries and roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ships calling at Kazakhstan’s national ports.

On 13 March, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced that border checkpoints around the country would be closed and might consider shutting down seaports.

In a follow-up statement on its website, the Ukraine Grain Association (UGA) warned that closing the seaports could disrupt grain export from the country, triggering oversupply and panic on the domestic market. According to UGA, there was no need to impose any restrictions against the transport industry, because the international merchant shipping fleet has not been found to be contributing to COVID-19 spreading worldwide.

Ukraine has signed contracts to export 20 million tonnes of grain by 1 July 2020, according to UGA. Shipping in the Ukrainian seaports could also experience disruption due to the Turkish government’s decision to check crew members from all ships passing through the Dardanelles strait for COVID-19.

UGA asked the prime minister to take into account the experience of other COVID-19-stricken countries, including China and Italy, where shipping was not subjected to similar checks.

To protect shipping, UGA has advised the Ukrainian government to instead introduce an enhanced safety regime in their seaports: all crew members arriving into the country could be screened for infection, and mandatory disinfection of all ships docking at the ports.