There is currently no single national regulatory authority entirely responsible for the UK's ports and, in the absence of a single regulator, a series of bodies are responsible for regulating port operations. In light of the COVID-19 situation, the Government, British Ports Association ("BPA") and European bodies have set out guidance for operations in 'marine settings'.
Industry Guidelines (on board a vessel)
The key information set out by the UK Government and BPA to assist ships (including cargo vessels, ferries and cruise ships) and seaports in providing advice to staff on addressing coronavirus covers:
- protocol on questioning passengers and crew before boarding any vessel on any symptoms of ARI;
- procedures for disembarkation and/or quarantine of suspected ARI on board;
- notification guidance for Master of Ship on reporting ARI to the Port Health Authorities through a Maritime Declaration of Heath ("MDH") and subsequent reporting to local Health Protection team;
- requirements for appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment ("PPE") and disinfection procedures;
- guidance for on board cleaning and waste disposal procedures; and
- powers to inspect ships, require mandatory off-shore mooring and on board quarantine.
As mentioned above, PHE have produced guidance for health and safety procedures for non-clinical premises, these include guidance for port staff on dealing with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in maritime settings. In addition, all UK ports and airports have been advised to follow the The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 that came into force 10 February 2020.
The Health Programme for the European Union has published an advice paper on the preparedness and responses to COVID-19 at points of entry in the EU. Key guidance is given for both passenger and cargo vessels as follows:
- management of suspected cases and isolation procedures on board a vessel;
- required supplies and adequate PPE equipment on board;
- reporting, notification and Contact Tracing activities on board and following disembarkation; and
- cleaning and disinfection procedures.
Reduced operations: impact on supply chains
The Transport sector has been classified as a 'critical service' under government policy and this includes freight (shipping and air cargo) modes operating during the COVID-19 response. Inevitably, priority will be given to 'critical sector' transport systems through which supply chains pass. The global nature of many supply chains increases the risk of disruption due to the coronavirus, for further information on responding to the supply chain disruption please review our briefing paper.
In addition, the BPA has called on the government to broaden the scope of testing and ensure that those working to keep the country supplied with imported food, energy and medicines are protected. Should the government extend the testing capacity to workers in the transport and logistics sector this should support efforts to ensure that food, energy and critical goods (among others) can continue to flow through the UK port and airports operations.
Closure of ports and airports
Seen as the UK ports facilitate 95% of UK trade, all necessary cargo and essential supplies to and from UK ports have been classified as critical supplies, this is the case for necessary exports and imports into UK airports. The expectation from the BPA is that any new power to potentially close individual ports or airports will only be used in extreme circumstances. A new Emergency Bill currently tabled in parliament may allow the government to request that port and airport operators temporarily close and suspend operations if Border Force staff shortages result in a real and significant threat to the UK’s border security. The power is only available when the Secretary of State has exhausted all relevant alternative mitigations and will be governed by strict safeguards to ensure that it is used fairly, responsibly and proportionately if the need arises.
The situation and policy announcements across both the aviation and port sectors in the UK is rapidly changing on a daily basis and all due care and attention should be given to new announcements from the CAA, BPA and any other regulatory/government bodies as and when they are released.