Hong Kong Reinstates Rules for Crew Change After COVID-19 Incident
Hong Kong has reversed itself reinstituting tighter controls governing crew changes scheduled to take place in the port. A month ago, port officials had relaxed the rules as part of the worldwide effort to facilitate crew changes but decided to reinstate the rules after a recent incident linked to a crew change in the city.
Starting July 10, 2020, crew members arriving in Hong Kong to sign on to a vessel are required to have a negative SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid test performed by an ISO 15189-accredited laboratory within 48 hours prior to departure from their place of embarkation. Further, the crew member must present both the test results and a guarantee letter from the shipping company or agent upon arrival in Hong Kong. Once they enter Hong Kong crew members are told they must also take their body temperature twice daily and report the results to the shipping company or agent.
Hong Kong is warning all inbound crew members if they do not arrive with these negative test results they will be denied entry. Also, it would be the shipping company or agent’s responsibility to make immediate arrangements for the person to return to their country of origin.
Inbound crew members are being told to arrive only when their vessels have docked and to proceed directly to their vessel. If they must stay in Hong Kong, the crew member should be placed in isolation and not go to public places to risk exposure with the general public. Outbound crew members leaving ships in Hong Kong are not required to have test results but they are now told that they must stay aboard their vessels and only leave when they can go straight to the airport for an immediate departure.
At the beginning of June, Hong Kong had reduced its entry regulations not requiring crew to be in quarantine or to complete a negative test before arrival. At the time, the Hong Kong Shipowners Association celebrated the decision saying it had come after extensive discussions with the authorities.
The decision to increase the regulations came after six crew members arrived in the city between June 21 and 23 and stayed in local hotels before board the MSC Flavia which departed Hong Kong on June 24. Two days later, when the vessel arrived in mainland China, 11 of the 24 crew members aboard the vessel tested positive for the virus with two of them later reported having a fever. Tracing efforts determined that six of the crew members testing positive had arrived in Hong Kong from Indonesia, while two came from Greece, and one from Croatia. They had all stayed onshore and been in the local community before boarding the ship.
While Hong Kong decided to strengthen its regulations to reduce the chances of exposure to the virus, it importantly agreed not to totally restrict crew changes for both commercial vessels arriving in the port and cruise ships that might still be seeking to complete repatriations for crew members.