April 21, 2020


The MSC Orchestra is the latest cruise ship to experience the slew of regulations imposed by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (“SAMSA”) and Transnet National Ports Authority (“TNPA”) in a bid to contain the risk of contracting the coronavirus. If there is a failure to manage seaports, where foreign visitors and crew transit, an increase in local transmissions could become a harsh reality.

The MSC Orchestra and other vessels were dealt with in terms of transitional arrangements where the vessel was allowed into port for the purpose of disembarking passengers, all of whom were screened for symptoms of the virus and then required to leave the country via the quickest possible means as directed by the Department of Home Affairs. Once provisioned, the vessel was also required to leave the port.

TNPA has implemented additional measures (mandated by the Acting Chief Harbour Master)to regulations published by the Department of Transport and the directives from the Department of Health which became effective from 18 March 2020. The most important of these additional measures are:

  • any false declarations of health will be reported to SAMSA and Port Health Officials for further action;
  • Marine Pilots and any other TNPA professionals rendering services to vessels and or who may come into contact with vessels auxiliary equipment are to make use of personal protective equipment (PPE) when boarding any vessel to protect themselves and the vessel’s crew, even if the master has declared all onboard are healthy. The disposable PPE is to be removed after every vessel and placed in dedicated sealed containers. The waste removal service provider will collect, replenish, transport and dispose the potentially contaminated PPE;
  • all waste removal including galley waste from off port limit vessels and vessels at anchorages are to cease immediately until advised otherwise – waste from local and coastal vessels will be considered on application;
  • the transfer of stores and spares for off port limits vessels only are permitted under strict conditions and must be approved by the Harbour Master. A risk assessment must be conducted and adequate mitigation measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus.As a minimum adequate PPE must be used and there must be minimal interaction with the crew. Stores and spares will only be permitted to be transferred from shore to the vessel for vessels from high risk areas with stringent measures and permission from SAMSA and Port Health;
  • permission from Port Health and the Harbour Master’s office is required prior to any interaction with vessels(i.e. vessels with any person having any illness). This also applies to bunker barges/ships and small vessels;
  • shore leave for crew is discouraged and limited to only essential matters and no visitors  without any official business are to be allowed on vessels;
  • limited interaction between bunker barge operators and vessels is permitted. Crew to ensure gloves are provided and used when handling mooring lines and all preventative precautions are upheld – no crew changes are permitted for bunker barges or foreign vessel taking fuel from foreign countries. Strict hygiene control is to be put in place for all activities conducted onboard. Bunker barges to ensure washing facilities and sanitation is provided onboard;
  • no passenger embarkation and disembarkation and vessel crew changes will be permitted for all ports including vessels at anchorage or off port limits. Only in exceptional circumstances will applications be considered as per the COVID-19 National Ports Act Regulations 2020 in force from 18 March 2020 or any SAMSA Notices;
  • all vessels shall ensure that the bridges are sanitized before and after the pilot boards the vessel;
  • any cases of coronavirus or other sickness are to be reported immediately to the nearest Port Office and to the Port Health Officer;
  • any vessel from a high risk area is required to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days if the transit time was less than 14 days from the last port to the first South African Port.

In addition,measures implemented by SAMSA in terms of Marine Notices are as follows:

  • all sea cruises into and out of any South African port are terminated until further notice;
  • the sign–on of crew from high risk and medium risk countries for commercial vessels will not be permitted;
  • the sign-off of crew from vessels arriving from high risk and medium risk countries into any seaport in South Africa within the incubation period for COVID-19 will not be permitted;
  • similarly, applications for off port limit crew changes will not be permitted, unless it is a medical evacuation and all clinical protocols are adhered to;

Recognising that the industry is facing challenges in meeting statutory requirements stipulated in the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 and other Conventions, SAMSA has in terms of Marine Notice 13 of 2020, provided guidance by extending seafarer periods of service onboard vessels and as of 16 March 2020, suspending statutory surveys, audits and inspections.

Both SAMSA andTNPA are to be lauded for the proactive steps taken to keep our ports, seafarers and service personnel safe.