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Ship management in Guatemala when a crew member onboard is suspected of having COVID-19

Evelyn Chavarría


What happens if a cargo ship enters a port in Guatemala and among its crew members there is a suspected Covid-19 infection?

The presidential provisions contained in Decree 7-2020 contemplate this possibility and allow the continuity of operations of sea, air, and land cargo during the State of Calamity. They also allow the disembarkation of crews and hint at the situation raised by allowing disembarkation for humanitarian reasons.

However, the acts of the authorities are ultimately limited, so that the Law, Treaties, and international Regulations allow them to carry out.

The main authority in handling ships, upon the arrival of a ship at the port is the Commander and Captain of the Port. The Commander and Captain of the Port regulate their actions according to what is established in the regulations for the government and police of the ports of the republic, of the ports and of the authorities in charge of the branch of migration therein. This entered into force from the 1933 date of its issuance as Government Decree 1333.

In accordance with the Regulations, the port commander and captain is only one and is the delegate of the Executive Body in all matters of the port's executive, particularly including the Sanitary part. In accordance with Article 10 of Chapter 2, it does so in coordination with the Director of Health (The head of the corresponding Port Health Area, according to the Current Health Code).

The Captain of the Ship must sign a Declaration of Health, which is mandatory when it comes from an area affected by an epidemic or pandemic as in the present case. This statement includes the declaration of the doctor on board that indicates the type of illness of the sick crew or passengers. In the absence of a Doctor, the Captain must declare if there are people with symptoms on the ship.

The ship can be inspected and, in due course, if disease exists, the World Health Organization (WHO) must be notified. WHO can make recommendations in case of diseases, epidemics, or pandemics in accordance with the International Health Regulations, approved by the WHO General Assembly and compliance for the States Parties, including Guatemala. The WHO in 24 hours recommends measures.

In the case of the Conavid-19 Pandemic, WHO has not recommended withholding cargo, but we must recognize that the measures to be practiced are not determined by WHO but by local authorities, the Ministry of Health in accordance with the Law of the Executive Body and the Health Code.

The International Health Regulations establish that ships should be allowed to be unloaded as far as possible, but measures such as disinfection, rat extermination and others, including quarantine, can be applied. Quarantine may include the restriction of activities and / or the separation of others from people who are not ill, but in respect of whom there are suspicions, or suspicious luggage, containers, means of transport or merchandise, in such a way that the possible spread of infection or contamination is prevented.

For practical purposes, in the case of a ship carrying bulk cargoes, it would be recommended to isolate the crew, make and have tests available, and carry out disinfection in the manner recommended by WHO, which, in the case of bulk cargo, does not exist a formula to disinfect and therefore the load should be allowed.