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This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) article sets out general guidance for UK-based members, mostly relying on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) and Seafarers' Employment Agreement (SEA). Note that there will be differences between flag states' laws. Covid-19 response is a fast-changing situation and Nautilus does not guarantee the veracity of the information. Members are urged to seek specialist legal advice wherever possible.
For specific advice based on your own individual circumstances and SEA please contact your union official: firstname.lastname@example.org
Seafarers travelling for work are advised to check Covid restrictions prior to departure, with several countries imposing additional requirements for passengers.
Some countries have closed borders, and any country may further restrict travel or bring in new rules with little warning. Nautilus members can check foreign travel advice for countries of work or transit.
Monday December 6: US imposes strict new travel restrictions to stem covid variant spread
1. What is the latest guidance on vaccinations for seafarers?
New guidance on vaccination for seafarers has been published by the NHS. The 'FAQs on Seafarers and vaccination' document can be downloaded from Nautilus Resources, and covers availability for both British citizens and international crew. It outlines which licensed vaccines are available including Pfizer (Cominarty), AstraZeneca and Moderna, and provides further information on how to access jabs at UK ports.
The guidance recognises that 'seafarers are a specialised international workforce vital to support National and International supply lines for critical items and general trade.'
2. Can my employer insist I get vaccinated.
Nautilus recommends that all seafarers take the opportunity to protect themselves by getting themselves vaccinated when offered the opportunity. In the UK at present there is no mandatory requirement for workers other than those working in front line health care, care homes or in social work to be vaccinated however, the outcome of any claim against an employer who did insist on vaccinations as a condition of employment is highly uncertain. This is particularly true in the maritime industry where seafarers non-vaccinated status could make the fulfilment of their duties difficult and where UK employment law may not apply. Any member with concerns regarding a company’s vaccination policy should contact their industrial organiser for advice.
3. I am due to join my ship but am worried about travelling, can I refuse?
Refusal to join a ship would be considered misconduct or gross misconduct under many SEAs even with such a public health concern. Check your SEA and any applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), to see if there are any relevant clauses. Employers should communicate with employees to explain the mitigating actions they have taken and what seafarers should do to protect themselves whilst travelling. Companies should comply with the Covid-19 Crew change protocols which have been drawn up by industry bodies and endorsed by the IMO.
It is possible that an employers demanding travel to an unsafe destination could be in contravention of national government travel advice, risk corporate travel insurance cover becoming invalid and fall foul of employee health and safety responsibilities under the MLC however, as governments move towards a policy of learning to live with the virus unless there is a specific threat in the destination country this is unlikely to be the case.
Members who are concerned about travelling to a specific destination should contact Nautilus immediately, which can then put their concerns to their employers.
4. What are the current travel restrictions for entering the UK?
The rules for entry into the UK have recently been relaxed significantly. Different rules apply to those who are able to claim an exemption which applies in most instances to seafarers travelling in the course of their work.
The following requirements are currently in place for those unable to claim an exemption in England:
Before travelling to the UK if fully vaccinated:
- Before travelling to the UK you must book and pay for a covid test on the government website . This is to be taken after you arrive in the UK.
- Complete a passenger locator form.
Before travelling to the UK if not fully vaccinated:
- Take a Covid 19 test in the two days before you travel. Detailed guidance here [https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-for-people-travelling-to-england]
- Book and pay for day 2 and day 8 PCR tests which are to be taken after you arrive in England.
- Complete a passenger locator form.
After arrival in the UK if fully vaccinated:
- There is no requirement to self-isolate.
- You must take the pre-booked Covid 19 test which can be either a lateral flow or a PCR test.
- If your test result is positive you must self isolate and follow the standard guidance for those that have tested positive.
After arrival in the UK if not fully vaccinated:
- Quarantine at home or the place you are staying for 10 full days.
- Take your pre booked Covid 19 tests on days 2 and 8. You may leave quarantine if the day 8 test is negative.
Exemptions for Seafarers
Seafarers who are travelling in the course or their work are exempt from many of the requirements that would normally apply.
- Seafarers are not required to complete the passenger locator form if they are travelling to England by ship for work or repatriation.
- Seafarers do need to complete the passenger locator form if arriving by train or plane.
- There is no requirement for a seafarer to take a Covid 19 test before travelling to the UK in the course of their work.
After arrival if fully vaccinated:
- You need to take a lateral flow test on day 2. If travelling on a daily basis you need take a lateral flow test every 3 days. NHS or workplace tests are sufficient – there is no need to pre book these tests.
After arrival if not fully vaccinated:
- You are required to take a lateral flow test on days 2, 5 and 8. Constant travellers who enter and leave on a daily basis or at intervals of no more than 2 days should take a test at least once every 3 days. NHS or workplace tests are sufficient – there is no need to pre book these tests.
- If you live in the UK there is no need to quarantine.
- If you live overseas you must quarantine in the place you are staying for 10 days except while you are undertaking exempt activity or travelling as part of your work.
Scotland has interpreted the rules differently which has resulted in some seafarers being denied exemptions if they are returning home on leave. There are no restrictions in place for those travelling by air to another part of the UK and then continuing their journey to Scotland over land.
5. What evidence do I need to show to prove I am a seafarer?
If you work on a ship you should show a Seafarers Identification Document (SID) if you have one.
If you don’t have an SID, you can show your joining papers, seafarer’s employment agreement or a discharge book. Alternatively, basic training certificates or letters from the registered owners of the vessel stating that you are a crew member are accepted.
6. Who is eligible for the exemptions?
The exemptions apply to seaman and masters as defined in section 313(1) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, marine pilots as defined in para 22(1) of schedule 3A of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 where they have travelled to the UK in the course of their work or been repatriated, and inspectors and surveyors of ships appointed under section 256 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 or by a government of a relevant British possession as defined in section 313 of the Act.
7. Can I take advantage of any exemptions if I am travelling for reasons not related to my employment?
The exemptions in place for seafarers are intended to recognise the importance of the work that seafarers do and minimise as far as possible disruption to crew changes and vessel schedules. They can only be used by seafarers travelling in the course of their work and not by those travelling for other reasons e.g. for holidays.
8. Who counts as fully vaccinated?
To count as ‘fully vaccinated’ you must have proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved medicine and you must have had your final dose at least 14 days prior to arrival.
The list of approved vaccines and acceptable proof is available here.
At present, there is no requirement to have had a 3rd dose
The UK does not accept proof of natural immunity as alternative to proof of vaccination.
9. I am travelling to join a vessel outside of the UK, what are the restrictions in my country of destination?
According to IMO and ILO guidance, states should designate seafarers as key workers and exempt them from any travel restrictions that are in place. Unfortunately, many states are not adhering to this guidance and continue to enforce restrictions of varying severity.
Shipping companies should supply seafarers with detailed information on what to expect during when joining or leaving a vessel including any restrictions that they will be expected to comply with.
Members should contact their industrial organiser immediately if they have any concerns.
10. I have been required to enter mandatory quarantine in the course of my employment, does my employer have to pay me?
If you are required to self-isolate or quarantine you should still be paid in accordance with your SEA.
During such a period, an employer should not order you to take unpaid contractual or statutory leave for which you would normally be paid. Any contravention of this can be challenged with the assistance of Nautilus.
The cost of any accommodation required for self isolation or any testing procedures required either by the company or government legislation should be met by the employer.
11. My employer is refusing off-signing and repatriation at the end of my contract due to Covid 19 fears, is this legal?
Under the MLC you have a right to be repatriated once your tour of duty is finished.
An employer can only refuse that if, under your SEA, there is a clause that permits it to extend the tour of duty.
The ILO's 'Information note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus (COVID-19)' emphasises that shipowner's must repatriate seafarers, unless that is impossible due to coronavirus related circumstances beyond their control.
The UK has re-issued MIN 632 (M), for UK ships, and takes account of the ILO note and other international protocols. It describes the very limited circumstances in which seafarers can be offered an extension to their SEA when they cannot be repatriated due to Covid-19 related barriers. Seafarers must be given the right to take advice: they cannot be forced to accept and extension, it must be agreed with the informed consent of the seafarer.
12. My company/local port terminal is refusing shore leave citing Covid 19 risks, is this legal?
A seafarers right to shore leave is defined in the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 and can only be denied in specific circumstances based on risk at a specific port. There may be circumstances where it is justified to deny shore leave for example if there is a local lockdown that prevents non-essential travel but ILO guidance states that seafarers should in principle be granted shore leave in accordance with any restrictions that are in place locally for the general population. Blanket bans on shore leave or policies that are overly restrictive are likely to be in contravention of the MLC.
Members who are concerned regarding company or port policies are advised to contact their industrial organiser who will be able to assist in making an MLC complaint if appropriate.
13. I am feeling unwell onboard and due to dock in a port that is refusing shoer access, what can I do?
Under the Maritime Labour Convention seafarers have a right to shore leave and where reasonably practicable, to go ashore for medical attention not available on board, without delay.
The question of whether going ashore for medical treatment is ‘reasonably practicable’ is to be decided on the urgency of the treatment required and the availability of suitable facilities ashore. Perceived risk of spreading or contracting Covid 19 should not be a reason for denial.
The IMO and ILO have released a joint statement affirming the need for states to uphold their obligations to provide medical assistance for seafarers.
14. I have been hospitalised abroad with Covid-19, is my employer liable for medical bills and sick pay?
The ship owner has a duty to pay for your medical care and treatment, therapeutic appliances, and board and lodging until you have recovered. You will also be entitled to full pay until you are repatriated. After repatriation you will be entitled to pay (in whole or in part – check flag state law) until at least 16 weeks from the date you became sick.
If the ship owner refuses unreasonably to allow for medical checks or medical help, that would be a serious breach of flag state MLC laws, rendering the ship owner liable to prosecution.
While in a foreign port ships will also be governed by the port state's MLC laws. So, an MLC onshore complaint may also be lodged with the local maritime authority.
Action from your union can help enforce these mechanisms.
15. I have been made unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Is there any assistance available?
Nautilus with the RMT and the Maritime Charities Group (MCG) have created a Redundancy and Retraining Fund that can provide eligible seafarers who have lost their employment as a result of the crisis with a grant of up to £500 for relevant training to assist in securing new employment in the maritime sector. Full details are available here.
The Maritime Charities Group has set up a fund administered by the Marine Society to assist seafarers who have been made unemployed with the costs of retraining. Eligible seafarers may be eligible for a bursary of up to £500 to be used for retraining leading to reemployment in the maritime industry. Courses can include MCA-approved and STCW refresher qualifications, maritime-related professional diplomas or ICS qualifications. Members wishing to make use of this fund should contact the Marine Society.
Further vacancies can be found on the Nautilus Jobs Board here.