As COVID-19 Grips Country, Maritime Industry Keeps Moving With PrecautionsView Source
In little more than a week, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has brought much of daily life in the United States to a halt as communities and government officials struggle to “flatten the curve” of infection.
On the nation’s waterways and at shoreside ports and terminals, though, there’s no such standstill as yet, while companies, under guidance from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and industry associations, put systems in place to prevent or minimize the spread of the coronavirus among their ranks.
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) has released extensive guidelines for towing vessel operators for limiting interactions between shoreside and vessel crews, for cleaning vessels and for identifying signs and symptoms of the disease.
“I know companies are individually preparing those company contingency plans along with some of the guidance AWO and CDC has put out,” said Jim Stark, president of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association. “What will be key is getting consistent guidance and policy from the Coast Guard for if you do have an infected person on board.”
Stark said his association’s members so far are focusing on limiting social interactions during crew changes and emphasizing sanitation aboard towing vessels to minimize the spread of germs.
Stark said, from what he’s heard so far, virus mitigation has not yet hampered cargo deliveries.
“Tows are still out there on the Intracoastal Waterway, making their way through the system,” Stark said. “But there certainly could be impacts downstream if the crews are affected on a larger scale.”
AWO hosted an industrywide webinar March 19, which featured a panel of industry leaders who discussed steps their companies have taken to combat spread of the disease. The panel consisted of Ketra Anderson from Crowley Maritime Corporation, Marino Hwang of McAllister Towing, Patrick Smith from American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL), and AWO’s Caitlyn Stewart.
Smith said ACBL has suspended all audits and surveys, again, in an attempt to minimize social interactions. Smith also noted that ACBL has “some surge capacity” should individual vessels need to be quarantined due to crew members falling ill.
Other vessel representatives, speaking anonymously, outlined the following ways they are preparing for disruptions due to COVID-19:
• One mariner reported stocking a significant supply of rice and beans in case of food shortage.
• One vessel reported holding crew change meetings outside rather than in an enclosed meeting room.
• Crews are also sterilizing high-touch surfaces like door handles, refrigerators and handrails on each watch.
• Some companies are reportedly asking one person from each department to work remotely for a week at a time, then rotating personnel, to help ensure continuity in case of infection.
Many companies are suspending using airplanes, buses and rental cars during crew changes.
“It’s been an all-out effort to try our best to stay ahead of the epidemic,” said Florida Marine’s Norm Antrainer.
“We limited entry into the facilities to a one-way in and out with entry screening in place,” Antrainer said. “We have asked vendors to not visit at this time, try and keep correspondence to emails and telephone [rather than] a social visit.”
Speaking to the possibility of COVID-19 spreading through the ranks of lock operators, Landry said, “It could be a challenge, but so far so good.”