By Capt. Atul Vatsa, Vice President, Compliance (Environmental, Marine & Safety)
Managing any crisis onboard poses immense strain on the limited manpower and resources available onboard. Managing an outbreak of an infectious disease onboard on the other hand is even more challenging as it severely restricts the capability of mobilising shore resources which may already be under immense pressure globally as in the case of epidemics or large-scale pandemics such as the current COVID-19.
Despite the best efforts, due to the numerous travel restrictions and the dynamic nature of local, regional and national regulations and differences in the regional enforcement of certain measures, the planning and execution of medical support from shore may be severely restricted. These are challenging times not only for the maritime industry but society at large.
Early detection, prevention and control of infectious disease cases onboard ships must therefore continue to be a number one priority, to protect the health of crew and at the same time to effectively discharge Thome’s role of being an important contributor to maintain critical global supply chains.
Thome has in place a written plan for disease outbreak management for its fleet which provides comprehensive guidance covering issues such as:
- how to identify a suspected case;
- an isolation plan describing the location(s) where suspected cases should be temporarily and individually isolated until disembarkation;
- hygiene rules for the isolation room(s) including use of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and disinfection procedures and waste management;
- options for onboard treatment and medical equipment inventories;
- and management of close contacts.
In implementing the outbreak management plan, Thome endeavours to keep its guidance updated at all times with regards to the fluid changes in the requirements and regulations in this highly connected and ever-changing environment. It is important to keep all crew members up to date on the most recent advice on hygiene and preventive measures as well as travel advice for affected areas. We, at Thome, take into account guidance provided by bodies of international repute both in the shipping industry-BIMCO, ICS, International Group of P &I, Flag states and ROs among others, as well as the medical community- CDC, WHO; to tackle the challenges at both the operational and the medical levels.
Through our fleet broadcast circulars, near real time information and updates are promulgated to the ships’ crews. The ships in general are instructed to implement more frequent cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, safe distancing, use of PPE and access control. Onboard cleaning and disinfection strategies are adapted to the ships itineraries as well as the number of onboard visitors from shore and their access to ship areas.
We, at Thome, maintain constant communication with the port authorities as well as our appointed agents to monitor our global port calls and to ensure necessary mitigations are in place at all times. We have also tested our business continuity plan by carrying out remote crisis management drills with our fleet vessels to ensure we are ready to handle any kind of emergencies onboard and working from home arrangements are in place globally for all our shore staff.
Thome has set up the tools and equipment to ensure we are fully equipped and operational to meet the needs of all our stakeholders. At Thome we are ‘Business as usual’.