The Shipping Industry – Measures adopted by the Maltese Authorities
The outbreak of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has wreaked havoc on the global shipping industry, which could undoubtedly lead to yet another industry-wide crisis in a somewhat already struggling shipping industry. The repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the industry and place increased financial pressure on a multitude of companies across the industry.
Following the spread of COVID-19 and the declaration that the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the Maltese Authorities have drafted and promulgated legal notices relevant to each affected sector within the shipping industry. One of the primary legal instruments to be promulgated by the local authorities in lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic is The Travel Ban Order (Legal Notice 42 of 2020), which was further updated by Legal Notice 63 of 2020 and Legal Notice 92 of 2020.
These notices, together with the latest port notices issued by the Ports and Yachting Directorate (Port Notice No 4 of 2020, No 5 of 2020, and No 6 of 2020) have been issued to control the spread of the virus, but in so doing, have affected local shipping activities such as cruise liners, cargo ships, offshore supply vessels, bunkering operations, and ferry services amongst others. The aforementioned legal instruments have severely limited activity through the introduction of stringent operational limitations on all related shipping and yachting activities around Maltese ports and marinas, including but not limited to a temporary ban on the entry of cruise liners and passenger ships into Maltese ports and territorial waters.
In addition, the Merchant Shipping Directorate has also issued two legal notices addressed to shipowners, ship operators, managers, masters, owners’ representatives and recognised organisations, in order to combat the spread of the virus. Through Merchant Shipping Notice 157, the directorate has urged all parties concerned to take the necessary precautionary measures, as well to remain vigilant and always adopt good hygiene practices. The directorate also advised all parties forming party of the shipping cluster to refer continuously to the WHO advisory reports for the purposes of risk assessment, to take the necessary precautionary measures and to be aware of the latest WHO information regarding this disease and its impact on the industry.
In furtherance of the above, the directorate released Merchant Shipping Notice 158 on 17th March 2020 as the directorate became aware of the fact that Malta-flagged vessels were already facing certain challenges emerging from mandatory quarantine and also from precautionary measures being taken by a number of port authorities around the world as COVID-19 continued to spread across the globe. The latter notice was promulgated to alleviate three main issues (discussed below) which the directorate became aware of following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Through Merchant Shipping Notice 158, the directorate has stipulated that shipowners, managers and operators encountering difficulties in repatriating seafarers following the expiration of the term established in the seafarer’s employment agreement in terms of the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Rules, may, on a case-by-case basis request to extend the validity of the agreement for a maximum period of three months, which period may be extended for further periods upon application, should the situation remain the same.
Additionally, seafarers, in possession of a certificate of competency issued by an administration other than Malta and who are in possession of a flag state endorsement issued under the Merchant Shipping Act, which may expire during an extended period on board, may request the directorate to extend the validity of their flag state endorsement. Lastly, in recognition of the fact that attendance of statutory surveys has become increasingly difficult and several shipyards cannot accommodate ships requiring dry-docking, the directorate shall consider requests for an extension/postponement under force majeure or unforeseen exceptional circumstances, on a case by case basis, where surveyors, auditors and/or inspectors are not able to undertake scheduled surveys, audit and inspections due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
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