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Fake COVID-19 Tests Flood The Market

Posted on 18th May 2020

With ships being at such high risk of COVID-19 infection, the emphasis on crew safety is higher now than ever. It isn’t just the logistics of having a large collection of people in a confined vessel once at sea. Or that every single person on board needs to respect their part in the process in order to keep the entire crew safe. 

You’ll already know that the nature of the environment onboard means ship crew are subject to increased risks from COVID-19 – being confined in small spaces for extended periods of time in close proximity to other people. And no-one wants to be needing a medevac or a major diversion – or even worse – a preventable death happening on their watch. 

But it isn’t just the obvious time together onboard you’ll be worried about. You’ll also be looking at logistical issues such as crew changes and this is no small feat in itself – especially when you’ll often be on the clock too with your turnaround times. Where do you draw the line at where your responsibility starts and stops as an employer, as a business needs to stay profitable whilst meeting its health and safety obligations? 

New Guidelines From EU and IMO 

To help with this, the EU & IMO recently issued new guidelines reminding shipowners that in order to help combat the escalating COVID-19 problem, there’s a requirement for pre-boarding screening of seafarers to be implemented.  

You can read more about this here but the main aspects to consider are: 

  1. In line with the advice referred to in paragraph 3, the primary option to ensure that seafarers at risk of infection with COVID-19 can start their duties should be testing before embarking.  
  2. For seafarers with suspected infections and mild symptoms, testing should be performed in the next port of call and all crew members should have access to adequate medical care. As part of this, the person or persons in question should be evacuated and receive adequate medical care. If one person on board is suspected to be infected with COVID-19, all crew members should observe a 14-day quarantine, either onboard or land. This should be waived if the test of the crew member with the suspected infection is negative or after the quarantined crew member tests negative for COVID-19. 

The effect of a Coronavirus outbreak onboard ships would be catastrophic both in human and business terms so effective testing is at the core of all of the measures being implemented. Your role is to ensure the risk of infection is minimised AND quickly contain any outbreaks if they happen.

Testing, Testing, 1,2, 300… 

To ensure you fulfill your obligation to keep your crew safe amidst the pandemic, you’ll need to thoroughly test your crew – in bulk. Often.

As per the IMO guidelines, if a crew member is even suspected of having the virus, all crew will need to adhere to 14 day quarantining protocol unless it can be confirmed they do not have the virus. 

To keep an entire crew – as let’s face it, in the confined spaces of a ship, that’s virtually what you’re looking at – quarantined either onboard or onshore would be a logistical nightmare. 

The only way you can accurately manage the safety of your functioning crew is to test them. Crew members could be showing no symptoms at all, and you can’t accurately retrace all of their steps in the last 48 hours even if they were. The guidance says to test all crew and passengers BEFORE boarding. 

“Without extensive pre-boarding screening, it’s impossible to know whether new asymptomatic crew are bringing COVID-19 onboard and infecting the whole ships’ crew.”

Not only will you need to test before boarding, but additional steps are being taken before you are allowed anywhere near land too. Before entering port, all ships will need to have provided a declaration of health from every crew member on board. Shipmasters will also need to have relayed in advance the number of persons on board (passengers and crew) and any confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

And you can only fulfill this requirement if you have the correct and accurate diagnostic equipment available to you. Which is where there is currently quite a dirty fly in the ointment…

Fake COVID-19 Test Kits Are Flooding The Global Markets 

Your ability to fulfill your most basic of obligations to keep your crew and passengers safe during the Coronavirus Pandemic is a huge challenge. 

We are seeing almost daily reports now of fake tests being made available. Arrests have been made in the UK by the National Crime Agency after a pharmacist and a surveyor were caught selling fake coronavirus testing kits. Nikki Holland, NCA director of investigations, said:  

“Illegally selling testing kits completely undermines the nation’s collective response to the pandemic and actually endangers lives.”

This couldn’t be more true. Americans were warned by the Food and Drug Administration Agency over a month ago to be alert to scams and the problem has grown hugely since. The agency has since then had to issue warning letters to many companies promoting and selling fake test kits. They have escalated their level of enforcement at ports of entry and are now including more thorough checking of international mail facilities to prevent fake kits from getting into the United States from other countries.

These are just a few examples of the steps currently needing to be taken to ensure the protective measures of responsible people globally aren’t wasted.

To add to the heightened protocol and additional burden for shipowners currently, the maritime industry also needs to be alert to fraudulent behaviour from employees. CNN share here how fraudulent claims are being made by workers claiming to be infected by Coronavirus, yet on further inspection, they are using fake medical letters.

The cost to an employer of closing or halting an entire operation while the entire vicinity is thoroughly disinfected and deep cleansed, plus all staff are tested to ensure they haven’t been contaminated too would be significant. For this to happen in a port or onboard would be costly.

Whether you’re looking at an outbreak or suspected cases of COVID-19, damage limitation using approved tests is the only way to accurately scope the scale of your problem.

Keep your crew healthy and maintain vessel operations.

To learn more click here