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Does a shipowner have the right to decline a port call due to coronavirus?
  • Post by: St Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry
  • Date: 06-02-2020

Amid the spread of the corona outbreak, many issues are arising for the shipping industry as well. In addition to the health tips that seafarers must be aware of, the shipping industry should have a clear picture regarding legal issues, such as if an owner can refuse to go to an affected port.

As per law Under a time charter an owner must comply with a charterer’s legitimate employment orders. Compliance is not necessary if the charterer’s order exposes the ship to a safety risk.

However, regarding the new coronavirus, it is unclear if the situation can make a port ‘unsafe’ according to the legal definition. For this reason, the position will have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, despite the fact that the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, it has at the same time recommended that no travel or trade restriction be imposed.

However, in spite of WHO’s suggestion that no travel restrictions be imposed, some countries are already applying a ‘No travel’ policy to China. What is more, some international ports have also decided to apply checks and quarantine measures on vessels arriving from China, or those with Chinese crew on board.

Nevertheless, determining the ‘unsafety’ of an affected port may prove difficult and will depend on the facts, while also considering the evolving situation. Thus, if an owner decides not to follow a charterer’s order without sufficient grounds, the charterer could be entitled to claim damages and possibly terminate the contract. Therefore, an owner should review its contractual position and take legal advice.

On the other hand, if an owner decides to follow a charterer’s order and suffers loss, it could be entitled to an indemnity from the charterer, although this would depend on the terms of the contract.

Coronavirus updates

A live map launched by the Johns Hopkins University provides everyday updates on the coronavirus issue, reporting in detail the total confirmed cases, the lost ones and the ones that have recovered from the virus. Today, February 6, the overall confirmed cases infected by coronavirus have reached the 28,344.

For the time being, the live map officially reports:

  • 28,344 total confirmed cases
  • 565 deaths
  • 1,286 recovered cases.

It should be highlighted that yesterday’s update around 9:43 a.m. reported 24,562 confirmed cases, marking a rapid increase of infections.

Overall, it should be reminded that the coronavirus firstly erupted in Wuhan, a city in China and rapidly spread around the globe. Therefore, instantly the World Health Organization declared a global emergency and provided several tips and recommendations so that people are protected from the virus.

A focus was given to the shipping industry as seafarers are facing great risks by travelling; Therefore, many major shipping players, from ports to Associations, issued circulars and bulletins presenting their preventive measures and advises.