Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, marine operators are now facing a new challenge: how to safely continue operations during a worldwide pandemic. Aside from the overarching risk to the health of their employees, exposure to COVID-19 can also result in quarantine of the vessel and/or the vessel’s crew for at least 14 days. Although the crew is generally isolated from the public while aboard the vessel, the risk of exposure is significantly heightened during crew change and anytime a non-crewmember boards the vessel. Further, a vessel’s typical close quarters makes it nearly impossible for crew to socially distance themselves from one another. To address these unique challenges, inland and offshore operators are taking steps to mitigate the risk of exposing crewmembers to COVID-19.
For example, inland marine operators have instituted strict protocols for keeping the crew safe and some have extended crew hitches in order to limit the amount of time crew are exposed while onshore. To prevent exposure during mobilization, crew transport vans are sanitized before loading and after unloading passengers and crew are required to wear masks while inside the vehicle. Some operators have retained dedicated medical professionals to administer temp checks to the crew prior to boarding and have provided captains with additional masks to distribute to the crew in the event a crew member becomes symptomatic. Before mobilization, vessels are stocked with additional hand sanitizer and cleaning products. Once aboard, exposure to non-crew members is strictly limited to essential critical infrastructure personnel, and operators have developed and instituted strict protocols for non-crew critical personnel, such as vendors and mechanics, requiring that they wear masks and gloves and limit interactions with the crew.
For offshore workers, temp checks are being administered at heliports. Some offshore operators have instituted a one-crewmember-per-room policy and chartered flotels in order to comply with this policy. Cleaning standards have been increased and restrictions on unnecessary movement within the vessel are in place to limit crew interaction with each other. Operators have assigned dedicated crewmembers for cleaning prior to and during mobilization and de-mobilization and have retained additional personnel to clean staterooms daily. Handrails, doorknobs, and common areas, including dining facilities, are required to be wiped down multiple times per day, and personal hand soaps are distributed to the crew to reduce sharing.
The Coast Guard continues to release its Marine Safety Information Bulletins (MSIBs) for COVID-19, which can be retrieved here. Links to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other trade groups are provided below.
If you have any questions about these or other matters affecting your operations, please contact us.