As you are no doubt aware, Coronavirus is present and rapidly spreading throughout the United States. Across the Gulf region, especially in New Orleans, new cases of the virus are being reported daily. The virus has many strains, most of which are relatively harmless to humans. This new version, officially called SARS-CoV-2, was discovered in the Wuhan province of China in December of 2019. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus; the disease it causes is known as COVID-19.
We know you are likely very concerned and taking measures to help slow the virus’s spread. While the Coronavirus impacts everyone, as a maritime worker, you may have questions/concerns about how the virus impacts you and your family. At the Young Firm, we wanted to provide you with as much information as possible about the Coronavirus, its potential impact on you, and what you can do to protect yourself.
How does Coronavirus affect the maritime industry?
As of March 14th, all U.S. ports remain open, but ports are restricting entry from countries known to have cases of COVID-19. At present, Port NOLA (in New Orleans) remains open and reports that cargo shipping operations are functioning “as normal.”
The cruise industry has been severely disrupted by the Coronavirus outbreak. Several cruise ships have been kept at bay in order to test and isolate those who might have Coronavirus. In an effort to slow the virus’s spread, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruises, and Carnival lines have all temporarily suspended operations. As of March 14th, all cruise lines have suspended departure from the United States for 30 days.
How might effects on the shipping industry impact my family?
It’s too soon to measure all the effects of the virus, but suspending cruise operations clearly affects the wages of cruise line employees. The longer operations are suspended, the more money cruise lines and their employees will lose.
Those who work in the cargo shipping industry are also likely to be affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic has severely disrupted international trade, and the shipping industry is taking a huge financial hit. Efforts to stop the spread of the virus have taken a huge toll on China’s container shipping industry. As trade likely continues to slow, many workers could be laid off. If you are employed as a maritime worker, the economic fallout of the Coronavirus could be significant.
If your income has been negatively impacted due to the Coronavirus, you might find this article helpful. You may find resources you can access to help you pay your bills. Also, you may pre-register (apply) to receive emergency SNAP benefits in the event that you lose income in the future. Doing so may expedite the process of receiving SNAP (food stamps).
Is Coronavirus more contagious onboard vessels?
Coronavirus is highly contagious. Because the virus is new, most people haven’t developed any immunity to it. Without immunity, the disease is highly contagious, so those who get it are likely to spread Coronavirus to between 1 and 3 other people.
Coronavirus is spread through close contact with a person who is contagious. The virus travels the air as well. So, you can also get the virus from touching someone or from the air they exhale (especially if they cough or sneeze near you). If you touch an object that a contagious person has touched, coughed or sneezed upon, you may also catch the virus. The virus spread more readily in crowds and contained spaces such as ships and oil platforms. If you are stationed on a vessel at sea, and the virus is present, you are more likely to be exposed to it.
Coronavirus has been detected on my vessel. What do I do?
It might be easy to think that being at sea acts as a kind of work-imposed quarantine, but this isn’t the case. An Equinor ASA maritime worker recently tested positive on a Norwegian oil platform. Another oil rig worker was just placed in quarantine at the Everest platform (off the coast of Scotland in the North Sea). The employee works for Chrysaor. Given how quickly Coronavirus is spreading along the Gulf Coast, it is reasonable to think that the virus could be present aboard oil rigs, barges, and other maritime vessels.
Even if Coronavirus hasn’t been detected on your vessel, you should still take protective measures. Be serious about protecting yourself. We know that the virus can be deadly for people who are older or who have pre-existing health conditions. If you are over the age of 50, the risk of death significantly increases, but if you are younger, and you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory illness, or cancer, you are also at higher risk for serious illness or death.
People who are sick may show no symptoms, or they may still be in the viruses’ 2 to 14 day incubation period. In fact, this early period when someone is just getting sick is when the virus is most contagious.
Even if you might not get very ill, the chances that you know someone who could get very ill or die from COVID-19 are high. So, please take the following precautions to help protect yourself from Coronavirus while at sea.
The International Chamber of Shipping has released guidelines for ship operators on how to protect the health of merchant mariners and other maritime workers. You can read the full guidelines here.
The good news is that many household disinfectants can kill the virus as long as they are used correctly.
Handle and prepare food with care. Avoid sharing food, eating or drinking after anyone, and make sure that all foods are properly cooked. Keep food off of direct contact with countertops, and wash your hands prior to preparing food.
More Updates to Come
There is no easy way to handle such a large-scale outbreak of a highly contagious disease. At The Young Firm, we want to help you stay informed, so we continue to monitor aspects of the pandemic that specifically relate to maritime workers. We will provide updates to this and other relevant pages as quickly as possible.