Global Health Emergency Guide: Helping Shipping Companies Prepare, Act and Recover

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Global Health Emergency Guide: Helping Shipping Companies Prepare, Act and Recover


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The ICS Global Health Emergency Guide: Helping Shipping Companies Prepare, Act and Recover provides a comprehensive and practical framework for shipping companies to get ahead and prepare for any future global health emergency. Drawing on lessons learned from Covid-19 and other global health emergencies that have affected shipping operations, this guide sets out a step-by-step action plan that can be implemented within the safety management system and incorporated into the company crisis management plan. 

With extensive insights from global agencies, shipping companies, crews, medical professionals and welfare organisations, this guide allows companies to prepare for, act on, and return to normal operations after, a global health emergency.

Content includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities for all ship and shore teams, including crewing, crisis management and communication teams
  • Seafarer health and wellness and supporting crew’s mental health
  • Reducing risk of an outbreak on board
  • Crew change protocols for crewing and for seafarers
  • Procedures in the event of an outbreak in port and at sea
  • Access to medical care on board and at port
  • Emergency communications planning
  • Re-assessing protocols and implementing lessons learned after a global health emergency
  • Maintaining compliance with international regulations, including the WHO International Health Regulations 2005, the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 and the FAL Convention

Each part (before, during and after) comes with a handy toolkit of more than 30 checklists, posters, templates and forms to help companies practically implement these protocols into their safety management system and deliver on their crisis management plan in the event of an outbreak. The guide can be used across all shipping company departments on shore and on board, and encompasses all stages of emergency response.

Benefits to buying the guide:

  • Be proactive – get ahead and integrate the guide into your safety management system and crisis management plan
  • Ensure business continuity
  • Support seafarers during times of high stress 

Additional Information
Author International Chamber of Shipping
Publisher International Chamber of Shipping Publications
Edition First Edition
Publication month 2024 - July
ISBN 978-1-913997-60-1
Shipping Weight 1.8Kg

Abbreviations 11

Definitions 12

Editorial notes 13

1 Overview of global health emergencies 17

1.1 What is a global health emergency? 17

1.2 Lessons learned from previous health emergencies 18

1.3 The new normal for the shipping industry 18

1.3.1 Treating seafarers as key workers 18

1.3.2 Digitalisation 19

1.4 The WHO International Health Regulations 2005 20

1.5 Pandemics, the IMO MLC, and the WHO International Health Regulations 2005 21

1.5.1 Comparisons between the MLC and the WHO International Health Regulations 2005 22

1.5.2 Member states’ responsibilities under the MLC for global health emergencies 23

1.5.3 Company responsibilities under the MLC for global health emergencies 24

2 Seafarer health and wellness 29

2.1 Sanitary etiquette on board 29

2.1.1 Hand washing 29

2.1.2 Coughs and sneezes 31

2.1.3 Good hygiene measures while travelling 31

2.2 Seafarers’ mental health 31

2.2.1 Employers’ responsibilities for mental health 34

2.2.2 Offering and providing support 35

2.2.3 Organisations which can offer support 35

PART 1: Preparations for a future global health emergency 37

3 Shore-side preparation 41

3.1 Crisis management planning 41

3.2 Reviewing policies in the SMS 42

3.3 Keeping ship and shore personnel safe 42

3.3.1 The SMS and infection control 42

3.3.2 Shore-based service providers and infection control 44

3.4 Pre-joining checks 44

3.4.1 Crewing agent and/or employer responsibilities 46

3.4.2 Shipowner responsibilities 46

3.4.3 Seafarer responsibilities 50

3.5 Safe seafarer travel 50

3.5.1 Booking crew travel 50

3.5.2 Guidance for seafarers when travelling 51

3.6 Crew change templates 51

3.6.1 Crew change travel templates 51

3.6.2 Port travel templates for crew changes 51

3.7 Ship sanitation certificates 53

3.7.1 Port authority responsibilities 53

3.8 Crisis communications strategy 53

3.9 Social media policy 54

3.10 Establishing procedures for contacting the seafarer’s designated contact in an emergency 54

4 Shipboard preparation 57

4.1 Measures to reduce risks on board 57

4.1.1 Ship sanitation certificates and inspections 57

4.1.2 Staying safe while travelling 59

4.1.3 Embarkation of crew and passengers 62

4.1.4 Hygiene measures to be adopted on board 63

4.1.5 Medical equipment to be kept on board 69

4.1.6 Disembarkation of crew and passengers 69

4.2 Seafarer vaccination checks 69

4.3 Keeping ship and shore personnel safe 70

4.3.1 The ship and shore interface 70

4.4 Care when ashore 73

4.4.1 Seafarers’ centres 73

4.4.2 Good hygiene practices ashore 73

5 Pre-global health emergency toolkit 77

Form 5A Medical equipment to be carried on board checklist 77

Form 5B Screening questionnaire prior to boarding template 78

Form 5C Employer letter template 80

Form 5D Crew change and travel information template 81

Form 5E Seafarer designated contact template 82

Form 5F Pre-arrival checklist 83

Form 5G Documentation to be sent before a ship sanitation inspection checklist 84

Form 5H Example of a shipboard infection control standard operating procedure 85

Form 5I Template of ship sanitation control exemption certificate / ship sanitation control certificate 88

Form 5J Maritime declaration of health template 91

Form 5K Crew health declaration for port entry template 93

Form 5L Daily crew temperature check template 95

Form 5M Poster on how to wash your hands 96

Form 5N Poster on how to cope with stress during an outbreak 97

Form 5O Poster of safe travel procedures for seafarers during an outbreak 98

Form 5P Poster on how to protect yourself and others after coughing or sneezing during an outbreak 99

Form 5Q Poster on dealing with laundry of infected or non-infected crew or passengers during an outbreak 100

Form 5R Poster of good hygiene practices when greeting others during an outbreak 101

PART 2: Actions during a global health emergency 103

6 Shore-side actions 107

6.1 The WHO International Health Regulations 2005 and how they can affect shipping 107

6.2 Responsibilities in the event of an outbreak 108

6.2.1 Ensuring clearance is received 108

6.3 Procedures in the event of an outbreak at sea 109

6.4 Procedures in the event of an outbreak in port 109

6.4.1 Maritime declaration of health 110

6.4.2 Considerations by the port authority for seafarer shore leave 112

6.4.3 Considerations by the shipowner for seafarer shore leave 113

6.5 Managing safe crew changes 113

6.5.1 Requirements of shipping companies arranging seafarer travel 113

6.6 Managing ship and seafarer documentation 115

6.7 Crew member vaccinations 115

6.7.1 Considerations for vaccinating crew 115

6.7.2 Legal liability and insurance issues arising from vaccination of seafarers 116

6.8 Sick crew members and passengers 118

6.8.1 Isolation of sick crew members and passengers 118

6.8.2 Medical treatment in port 119

6.8.3 Repatriation 119

6.9 Internal communications during an outbreak 119

6.10 Media relations during an outbreak 121

6.10.1 Communications with the press 121

6.10.2 Use of social media 123

6.11 Informing the designated contact 124

6.11.1 Making contact 124

6.12 Deaths on board 125

6.12.1 Contacting the designated contact 126

6.13 Protocols to prevent seafarer abandonments 126

6.13.1 Shipowner obligations 127

6.13.2 Port state obligations 127

6.13.3 Flag state obligations 128

6.13.4 Labour supply states 128

7 Shipboard actions 131

7.1 Procedures in the event of an outbreak 131

7.1.1 Port entry restrictions 132

7.1.2 Transiting ships 135

7.1.3 Outbreaks in port 135

7.2 Keeping safe on board 135

7.2.1 Managing the ship/shore interface during an outbreak 136

7.3 Accessing medical care in port 141

7.3.1 Medical care in port 141

7.3.2 Medical repatriation 142

7.4 Protocols for joining and leaving a ship 143

7.5 Isolation of crew members on joining the ship 145

7.6 Decision making for on board or confirmed case 146

7.7 Care of sick crew and passengers during an outbreak 148

7.7.1 Patient care 148

7.7.2 PPE for crew members dealing with infected people 149

7.7.3 Dealing with contaminated laundry and furnishings 150

7.7.4 Dealing with contaminated hard surfaces 151

7.7.5 Identification of contacts 151

7.8 Crew member mental health during an outbreak 152

7.9 Sector-specific guidance 158

7.9.1 Tankers 158

7.9.2 Cruise ships 158

7.9.3 Offshore industry 158

7.10 Deaths on board 159

7.10.1 Establishing a cause of death 159

7.10.2 Procedure after a death on board 160

7.10.3 Storing a body until disembarkation in port 161

7.10.4 Family and crew concerns 162

7.10.5 Religious practices 162

8 During a global health emergency toolkit 167

Form 8A Considerations before any internal or external communications are released 167

Form 8B Informing the designated contact checklist 168

Form 8C Deaths on board checklist 169

Form 8D Crew health declaration template 170

Form 8E Daily crew temperature check template 172

Form 8F First call or visit template 173

Form 8G Employer letter template 174

Form 8H Second and subsequent call or visit template 175

Form 8I Designated contact call log template 176

Form 8J Bridge and accommodation disinfection list for pilot and/or visitor embarkation and disembarkation 177

Form 8K Dead body comments template 178

Form 8L Preparing a dead body for storage checklist 179

Form 8M Measures to support mental wellbeing during an outbreak 180

Form 8N Poster on how to cope with stress during an outbreak 182

Form 8O Poster of suicide warning signs 183

PART 3: Recovery after a global health emergency 185

9 Getting shipping operations back to normal 189

9.1 Re-assessing protocols and lessons learned 189

9.1.1 Assessing protocols for shipping companies 190

9.1.2 Assessing protocols on board 190

9.2 Helping employees get ‘back to normal’ 190

9.3 Managing safe interactions after an outbreak 193

9.3.1 Managing safe interactions on the ship 194

9.3.2 Managing safe travel 195

9.3.3 Managing safe interactions in the office 196

9.4 Employee assistance programmes 197

9.5 Follow ups and replenishing supplies 198

9.6 The impact on seafarer education and training 199

9.6.1 The impact on academic schedules 201

9.6.2 The impact on cadet berths and on board training 201

10 Post-global health emergency toolkit 205

Form 10A Managing safe interactions on board checklist 205

Form 10B Managing safe travel checklist 206

Form 10C Managing safe interactions in the office checklist 207

Form 10D Example of a company sickness and absence policy 208

Form 10E Return to work survey template 211

Form 10F Recruitment poster for a career at sea 212

References 213


Global health emergencies test our resilience, adaptability and capacity to thrive. The maritime industry did not stop operating during the Covid-19 pandemic despite the world’s disrupted economies and strained healthcare systems.

It is essential for the maritime industry to continue operating through any global health emergency, ensuring that goods and services are brought to those that require them. To do so, shipping companies must have the necessary knowledge, tools and strategies ahead of these crises. This preparation enables the entire industry to properly plan for, respond to and recover from a global health emergency.

The Global Health Emergency Guide offers comprehensive guidance that covers all aspects of crisis management, including the early signs of an emerging global health emergency, ensuring necessary resources reach ships, safeguarding persons on board and the importance of communication between all stakeholders.

The Global Health Emergency Guide is divided into three parts:

  • Part 1: Preparations for a future global health emergency;
  • Part 2: Actions during a global health emergency; and
  • Part 3: Recovery after a global health emergency.

Each part is further divided into chapters specific to shore-side staff, seafarers and toolkits containing useful checklists, templates and posters. The intention of this Guide’s organisation is as follows:

  • Part 1 should be reviewed during normal operations and this guidance should be considered for inclusion in the company’s Safety Management System (SMS);
  • Part 2 should be reviewed and implemented into operating procedures during a global health emergency, as appropriate, so that the ship can maintain operations and keep seafarers safe; and
  • Part 3 should be reviewed after a global health emergency to help the company assess what went well when handling the emergency and what needs improvement.

A standalone chapter is dedicated to seafarer health and wellness to highlight the strain that global health emergencies place on individuals.

In writing this Guide, a review group was formed of medical professionals, shipping company representatives and other maritime NGO employees. These representatives considered how to plan for a global health emergency where the symptoms, transmission method, effects or treatments are unknown. Drawing from the invaluable lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and other global health emergencies, such as SARS, Ebola and Zika virus, this ICS Guide highlights trends from these crises and the actions taken by different stakeholders, including what worked well and what required improvement.

Some information is duplicated between chapters, to help readers who might read one section in isolation, rather than read the entire Guide from first page to last.


ICS extends its grateful thanks to the following organisations for their assistance in reviewing this publication:

  • Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
  • International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO)
  • International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA)
  • International Maritime Health Association (IMHA)
  • UK Chamber of Shipping
  • Union of Greek Shipowners

Thanks are also extended to our industry partners who worked with ICS to produce dozens of free guidelines during the Covid-19 crisis and other global health emergencies, from which this new ICS Guide draws much of its source material.

Queries and feedback should be sent to [email protected].