'Now is the time for all countries to widely open borders for free movement of goods and people, transparently share knowledge and experience in disease control measures and vaccines, and actively seek common solutions," says South Korea's minister of oceans and fisheries.
South Korea's minister of Oceans and Fisheries Moon Seong-hyeok urged the world to engage with one another in a spirit of cooperation with an open mind to win the fight against the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis together.
Moon said the South Korean government stands ready to fully cooperate to ensure the continued flow of global trade and maritime traffic.
ON March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic. The highly contagious disease has now developed into a global health crisis, with at least 300,000 deaths out of nearly 5m cases confirmed in 185 countries over a span of just two months after the declaration. Some experts have even cautiously predicted that the virus could strike a third of the world's population.
As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, a growing number of port states have imposed stringent restrictions on disembarkation of seafarers and entry of foreign nationals, while some countries even have gone so far as shutting down their borders altogether, all in an effort to contain the spread of the epidemic.
Although these measures are part of the efforts to prevent and combat the spread of the coronavirus, they may cause unintended side effects by clotting the “bloodstream” of goods and services across borders.
As a case in point, the immediate negative repercussion of these actions is likely to disrupt the flow of food and medical supplies including face masks all around the world. Furthermore, even if trade resumes after the pandemic subsides, it would take considerable time and money to restore the free flow of goods to the same level as it was prior to the outbreak since it is likely that confidence in timely delivery as agreed upon in contracts would have been already undermined among cargo owners and ship owners.
In this regard, the global maritime industry is deeply concerned about the adverse effects on the sector and is urging global leaders to seek solutions. On February 13, the International Maritime Organization and WHO issued a Joint Communique to call for close cooperation of all member states to ensure free port entry of ships, known as 'free pratique'.
On March 31, the International Labour Organization published a Statement of the Officers of the Special Tripartite Committee on the coronavirus disease to raise awareness among governments that seafarers as key workers should be granted exemptions from any travel restrictions to ensure their welfare and wellbeing as well as the undisrupted flow of maritime traffic.
On April 12, WHO, ILO and IMO presented a Joint Statement to reaffirm their commitment to working together to ensure the ability of shipping and seafarers to continue to deliver vital goods, including food and medical supplies.
Despite these echoing voices of concern, lockdowns are still prevailing across countries, further intensifying the suffering of seafarers who have no choice but to stay on board due to the inability to disembark and perform crew change even after their contractual on board service period is over.
As one of the world's leading trade nations, the Republic of Korea also underscores the importance of ensuring supply chain continuity and uninterrupted maritime trade flow. On that account, the Korean government has imposed a Special Entry Procedure for travellers entering the country to allow all foreign nationals to enter or depart from the country without impediment and facilitate free movement of goods and people while beefing up its disease control measures.
In particular, South Korea permits seafarers, irrespective of their nationality, to enter and exit the country to facilitate crew change as long as they follow the country’s coronavirus screening process at their points of entry.
Of course, stringent procedures to address an influx of Covid-19 from overseas are in place. These measures are to ensure that all colleagues on board who will share the voyage can be assured of a safe journey with new virus-free seafarers.
In addressing the possibility of South Korean ships being detained at foreign ports due to possible non-compliance with the requirements of international conventions in relation to crew change and ship certificates amid the Covid-19 outbreak, upon request of ship owners, Korean port authorities will issue to foreign port authorities an official dispensation letter asking for granting the entry of vessels to their ports.
And, putting the health and safety of seafarers first, the government allows the extension of the maximum on board service period of seafarers with the consent of seafarers to the extension of their employment contracts.
With respect to concerns about the validity of ship certificates which may expire due to the inability of ship surveyors or inspectors to embark vessels due to the virus-related restrictions, the government endorses the extension of the validity of existing certificates and associated survey and audits for three to six months from the expiry date. Also, remote ship surveys, audits and inspections are provisionally carried out to foster the unimpeded maritime traffic of South Korean vessels.