South Africa eases tight grip of Covid-19 pandemic related regulations on global shipping and seafarers.

Pretoria: 07 July 2020

An appeal by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on Member States to find ways to facilitate greater ease of operation for global shipping amid the strife to effectively manage the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic has found a kind ear in South Africa.

Among such steps taken by South Africa is the immediate extension of the expiration of seafarers certificates by no less than six months from June 2020 to 31 December 2020, or such other period as may be necessary and allowed, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

The arrangement is similarly applicable to vessels whose certificates are due to expire during to the lockdown, granted an extension of up to three (months) provided an application is made well in advance.

SAMSA File Photo

According to SAMSA, the concessions are contained in a correspondence submitted by Government to the IMO a week ago, outling the measures South Africa is taking to ease the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown regulations implemented since March 2020 in the country, and varinglyper time period worldwide, with major negative impacts on global shipping operations.

The newly introduced measures, outlined in even greater detail in circulars including an accompanying Marine Notice 34 of 2020 published last Thursday, 02 July 2020 are, according to SAMSA, in response to a recent call by the IMO on Member States to ease up on lockdown regulations to enable less interruption on global shipping.

The IMO call, with the full backing of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), found even greater expression during the global marking of the international Day of the Seafarer 2020, in South Africa and across the world on 25 June 2020.

“Shipping is truly a global industry and we need Governments to provide a global solution,” the ITF was qouted as saying.

According Mr Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary, as reported by the IMO, the workers organisation received emails from hundreds of seafarers daily, expressing their concern about contracts being extended under duress, amid fears that this would impact their ability to perform safe operations, thereby putting themselves at risk as well as the global supply chain and potentially the environment.   

In also calling for ‘leadership and action’, the ICS reportedly said ‘during the COVID-19 pandemic, ships, which fundamentally depend on seafarers, have continued to carry essential goods across the globe.’

Mr Guy Platten, Secretary-General of ICS reportedly said that ‘the number of stranded seafarers [was] currently 400,000, with 200,000 needing to leave ships and a similar number needing to replace them.’

In response to the IMO call, South Africa last week acknowledged and submitted that: “The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the maritime value chain, including the ability of Maritime Administrations and the recognised organisations to deliver services necessary for statutory certification of seafarers and vessels. Furthermore, the issues about manning of ships, crew changes and search and rescue services are receiving necessary attention.

Immediate new measures South Africa confirmed to have introduced relate both to seafarers certification with respect to validity of seafarers certificates, medical and eyesight certificates and safe manning of ships; as well as ships certificates and surveys.

With respect to seafarers certification, the country states: “SAMSA has considered the predicament many seafarers and their employers are finding themselves in and have (sic) granted an extension until 31 December 2020 to any certificate that expires during the national lockdown and/or shortly thereafter.

“The masters, seafarers and employers must produce a letter for extension of their Certificates – http://www.samsa.org.za/Pages/Marine-Notices.aspx
Where appropriate, seafarers and/or employers may apply to SAMSA for the issuance with a specific letter to each seafarers in accordance with the applicable Marine Notice.”

On medical and eyesight certificates SAMSA grants that: “Medical Certificates for seafarers shall remain valid as issued. Under the measurers in place to combat COVID-19, medical practitioners will still be operating and seafarers will be allowed to visit the medical practitioner (doctor) for medical examination.

“Seafarers whose medical certificates expires whilst onboard a ship may continue to serve on that ship for three (3) months from the expiration date in accordance with STCW Regulation I/9.”

In respect of safe manning of ships SAMSA instructs that: “Ship operators must inform SAMSA regarding any challenges with seafarers holding foreign CoC with regards to revalidation and obtaining an endorsement to their CoC.

“SAMSA will not issue an endorsement to a foreign COC unless such certificate is still valid, except where there is a policy from that administration regarding the same.”

Regarding vessels certificates and surveys, SAMSA advises that: “Vessels which are subject to International Conventions (and) whose statutory certification are due for renewal, and there is difficulty with the attendance by a surveyor, may apply for extension of certificates by up to three (3) months. Such application shall be made within reasonable time to ensure continued compliance with all statutory requirements.”

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Covid-19 lockdown regulations eased for SA seafarers during Level 3 : SAMSA

SAMSA File Photo

Pretoria: 03 June 2020

Consistent with revised Government regulations for the national lockdown for Level 3 announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa a week ago, and effective on 01 June 2020, South African seafarers are now allowed to freely embark and disembark vessels in South Africa or abroad.

In addition, clarity has also been provided on restrictions under national lockdown under the different levels, affecting the operations of small vessels.

This is according to two Marine Notices No.30 and No.31 issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in Pretoria this week as promised by Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula at the weekend.

According to SAMSA in terms of Marine Notice No.30 (Crew Changes); “All South African seafarers will be permitted to embark or disembark vessels either in South Africa or Internationally. Returning seafarers will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

“South African seafarers wishing to join a vessel, should preferably self-quarantine for 14-days prior to embarking. It is further recommended that seafarers undergo a Covid-19 test prior to joining a vessel.”

SAMSA File Photo

Giving contenxt to the periodically revised regulations SAMSA says: “Shipping is vital to the world supply chain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that all personnel involved are protected from infection, including those onboard ships and shore personnel who may need to temporarily go onboard ships or interact with seafarers.

“Many seafarers on board ships (and personnel in the offshore industry) have been on enforced extended contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on travel making it difficult for crew to leave ships and for new crew to join ships. These extended stays on board could have significant repercussions for crew wellbeing as well as for safe ship operations.”

However, with South Africa effectively still under national lockdown due to the global war against the Covid-19 pandemic, according to SAMSA, foreign seafarers continue to be prohibited from disembarking on South African soil in terms of the newly revised regulations.

The Marine Notice reads: “No foreign Seafarers will be permitted to embark or disembark vessels in South Africa, unless prior arrangements have been agreed upon between the seafarers’ Embassy and Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Department of Home Affairs and Department of Health.”

The notice further sets out guideliness on various other aspects relevant to the national lockdown such as medical evacuations, health declarations and international travel regulations, and about which the shipping community is urged to closely study for understanding and compliance with.

Meanwhile, Marine Notice No.31 (SAMSA’s risk-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Small Vessels and Essential Fishing Vessels) brings about clarity on regulations governing the activities of small vessels during the national lockdown, according to the five (5) levels.

According to SAMSA; ‘This Marine Notice covers the services that will be provided to vessels under the survey region by SAMSA. This does not preclude any operations which may be prohibited by other Government Deparments and Disaster Management Regulations (DMA).

“Owners and vessel operators are to ensure that they have a full understanding of any DMA regulations issued by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).”

In a table containing a list of 13 vessel operations related activities, the notice outlines which of these permitted under each of the national lockdown five (5) levels.

In addition, it also gives claritiy on regulations with respect to certificates of fitness, safe manning, and related matters. “SAMSA requests all stakeholders within the small boating fraternity to abide by the lockdown protocol as detailed in this Marine Notice and any regulations published in terms of the DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2002. The relevant risk level will change as determined by the DMA and may be different in the various provinces depending on the spread of the virus,” states the notice.

SAMSA File Photo

In a separate development, SAMSA also confirmed in a media statement on Tuesday, the final safe docking of the crippled China flagged crude oil tanker, the VLCC Yuan Hua Hu, at the port of Durban on Tuesday morning.

The statement reads:

“The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) wishes to confirm that the VLCC “Yuan Hua Hu” has been successfully berthed alongside Durban. This morning, at 0500 a Chemist attended the vessel offshore and completed a Gas-free Test to ensure that the tanker posed no risk to the port. The Chemist cleared the vessel and the tanker was allowed to approach the pilot boarding station with both the tugs “Pacific Dolphin” and “Siyanda” in tow.

The towing tugs successfully handed the tanker over to four Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA) tugs, two TNPA Pilots, who executed the berthing of the tanker. The tanker ran into difficulties off Port St Johns  on the 27th of May 2020  and was immobilised. She was unable to use her engines while drifting towards shore off and was arrested while she was 0.4 nautical miles from the beach.

The vessel was not carrying any cargo and all  27 crew on-board the casualty vessel are reported to be safe and no injuries were reported. The vessel has been boomed off to prevent any pollution while she undergoes repairs by a team of specialists.

To ensure that due diligence is carried out, a SAMSA Port State Control Inspector will conduct an inspection on the tanker today (2 June 2020) to verify that the tanker complies with all international regulations. SAMSA would like to specifically thank the Master and Crew of the “Siyanda” and the “Pacific Dolphin” who successfully towed the vessel to Durban from Port St Johns.

SAMSA also wishes to acknowledge the exceptional teamwork displayed among the multi-disciplinary team, comprising some of South Africa’s top maritime experts, including  the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), AMSOL, Transnet National Port Authority(TNPA), Smit Marine South Africa, P&I Associates, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) and SAMSA first responders.

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