‘Pragmatic approach’ by port State inspection authorities during COVID-19 pandemic
Port State control (PSC) regimes have advised that inspection practices have been adjusted in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Physical on-board ship inspections have been reduced considerably to protect both port State control officers (PSCOs) and seafarers, but the PSC regimes have said they continue to work to target high-risk ships which may be substandard.
Representatives of the 10 Port State Control regimes which cover the world’s oceans met on 8 April in an online video meeting called by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). They reported taking a “pragmatic, practical and flexible” approach to issues arising as a result of the pandemic, such as problems caused by delays to surveys and audits and other issues around renewing certificates. Some also mention accepting delays to ballast water treatment installations caused by dry-dock delays, provided the ship’s flag State has issued an exceptional dispensation.
In a joint statement, the port State control regimes and IMO highlighted the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the need to maintain crucial sea trade supply chains, including the flow of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products, and other goods and services.
“The respective roles of flag States and port States to solve this crisis, in terms of supporting maritime trade, are paramount, and can also be significantly assisted by the industry. At the same time, the safety of life at sea, the protection of the marine environment and the respect of seafarers as keyworkers must remain shared priorities,” the statement said.
The joint statement from the video meeting, as well as the statements and/or relevant temporary guidance issued by the Viña del Mar Agreement, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Paris and Tokyo Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs), as well as the United States Coast Guard as a national regime in relation to PSC activities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, are set out in Circular Letter No.4204/Add.8 (14 April 2020).
The IMO has also shared Circular Letters with COVID-19 related notifications received from Member States. It is a good resource for those seeking information and guidance from individual countries, including their approach to extension of inspections, audits, certificates and surveys.
This and other information, including recommendations issued by IMO, can be found on a dedicated COVID-19 on the IMO website.
Although it was not specifically discussed at the meeting between IMO and PSC authorities, the reduction of physical PSC inspection of vessels also means many countries will either reduce or not conduct checks for compliance with MARPOL Annex VI sulphur limits while focusing on the safety of PSCOs and ship personnel and not disrupt crucial supply chain.