As part of COVID-19 safety the US has introduced new safety requirements in the maritime transportation system. This requires all persons, including crew members on board ships proceeding to and trading within the waters under US jurisdiction to wear a face mark while boarding, disembarking and for the duration of the travel. Crew members and port facility personnel may be exempt from wearing a mask only when actively performing a task that would create a health or safety risk if performed wearing a mask and should immediately wear a mask when the task is complete. This exemption does not apply to passengers.
On 21 January, the US President issued an executive order on promoting COVID-19 safety in Domestic and International Travel, which required wearing of masks on certain domestic modes of transportation. This order requires masks to be worn on all “public maritime vessels, including ferries”.
Following this order, the Centre of disease control and prevention (CDC) issued an order that requires wearing of masks by all persons while boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel on commercial ships. It also requires operators of all transport hubs to ensure that all persons wear a mask when entering, or on the premises of the transportation hub.
This requirement applies to both passengers and crew working on ships that are bound for US and that trade in the waters under US jurisdiction.
CDC also gives a detailed description of how a mask must be worn, under which circumstances masks are exempted and so forth. The guidance can be found here.
The CDC Mask Order exempts the following categories of persons:
• A child under the age of two years.
• A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.).
• A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.
Vessel or facility operators, owners, or companies should provide clear guidance as to when wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace, health, safety or job duty for crew members and facility personnel. The company guidance should address specific tasks that cannot be accomplished safely while wearing a mask. A blanket policy cannot be issued to exempt all persons from wearing a mask at all times. Crew members and facility personnel may be exempt from wearing a mask only when actively performing the task and should immediately wear a mask when the task is complete. Since passengers should refrain from instances where wearing a mask may present a risk, this exemption does not extend to passengers.
USCG has issued Maritime safety information bulletin 02-21 and 02-21 CH-1 on this topic.
The requirement to wear a mask shall not apply under the following circumstances:
• While eating, drinking, or taking medication, for brief periods.
• While communicating with a person who is hearing impaired when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
• If, unconscious (for reasons other than sleeping), incapacitated, unable to be awakened, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, experiencing difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or feeling winded may temporarily remove the mask until able to resume normal breathing with the mask. Vomiting or other illness may also require removal of the mask. Other medical conditions and equipment may interfere with the ability to wear a mask.
• When necessary to temporarily remove the mask to verify one’s identity such as during Transportation Security Administration screening or when asked to do so by a ticket or gate agent or any law enforcement official.
Operators of vessels and seaports that fail to implement appropriate public health measures, including the mask wearing order above, may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.
BIMCO recommends that ships to which this order applies make a logbook entry of when they started complying with this new requirement, for a smooth inspection, if any, when the ship reaches US.
Links to all the above-mentioned documents are listed below.
1. Executive order by the US President
2. Centre of disease control and prevention order
3. Centre of disease control and prevention mask requirement guidance
4. Maritime safety information bulletin 02-21
5. Maritime safety information bulletin 02-21 CH-1