COVID-19: An Occupational Disease?

On April 28, 2020, the global trade union movement urged governments and occupational health and safety bodies around the world to recognise SARS-CoV-2 as an occupational hazard, and COVID-19 as an occupational disease.

In practice, this means that the employer’s duty to take reasonable measures to protect the health and safety of their employees will cover COVID-19 related risks. Furthermore, it means that employees will be able to benefit from compensation schemes provided for those injured, or the dependants of the deceased, whenever there has been injury or death due to work-related accidents or occupational diseases.

Recognising COVID-19 as an occupational disease will be crucial to ‘key workers’, such as seafarers. For that it will ensure that adequate preventive measures are adopted and, if they contract COVID-19 at work, that existing compensation and liability regimes remain applicable.

EU COMMISSION URGES MEMBER STATES TO DESIGNATE PORTS WHERE CREW CHANGES ARE FACILITATED DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC

In response to the IMO recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of crew changes and repatriations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission has now taken steps to facilitate and coordinate the efforts of Member States to enable crew changes in their ports.  

On guidelines published 8 April 2020, the European Commission urges Member States to designate ports for fast-track crew changes. The ports should be geographically dispersed so as to cover the Union and should be connected to operational airports and rail stations.

Given that transport connections are now heavily affected, the European Commission further urges Member States to envisage the possibility of dedicated flights and rail operations to ensure the transport connections for crew changes, allowing for swift travel and repatriations of seafarers.

Regarding the characteristics of these designated ports, the European Commission highlights that they should have nearby accommodation where seafarers could wait for arrival of the ship they should board or for their flight, train or ship if it does not leave on the same day. This accommodation should have adequate facilities to allow seafarers to undergo 14 days of quarantine before embarking and after disembarking if the Member State at hand requires this to protect public health. Finally, the ports should have accessible and adequate medical services available to seafarers when they embark, disembark and during their quarantine periods.

The European Commission clarifies here that seafarers who are nationals of third countries should also have access to adequate medical care and accommodation until their repatriation becomes possible. However, Member States may be entitled to request compensation from the shipowner. In this respect, the provisions of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, apply to ensure that accommodation and medical care should, in principle, be provided at no cost to seafarers.

The European Commission has also commented on the practice of extending the usual 11 months duration of a SEA stating that this should be the last resort, if repatriation is not possible. This is essential to ensure that fatigue does not detrimentally affect the mental health of seafarers and maritime safety.

As a final note, the European Commission stresses the need for the practice of designating ports where crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic to be shared with third countries to be implemented worldwide.

THE IMO CIRCULATES PRELIMINARY LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GOVERNMENTS AND RELEVANT NATIONAL AUTHORITIES ON THE FACILITATION OF CREW CHANGES AND REPATRIATIONS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health crisis, which places unprecedented restraints to the movement of seafarers for the purposes of crew changes and repatriations. In a circular letter issued on the 27th of March 2020, the IMO has distributed a preliminary list of recommendations for governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of crew changes and repatriations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amongst other things, the IMO specifically urges governments to:

  • designate seafarers, regardless of nationality, as ‘key workers’ providing an essential service;
  • grant seafarers with any necessary and appropriate exemptions from national travel or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships;
  • accept, inter alia, official seafarers’ identity documents, discharge books, STCW certificates, seafarer employment agreements and letters of appointment from the maritime employer, as evidence of being a seafarer, where necessary, for the purposes of crew changes;
  • permit seafarers to disembark ships in port and transit through their territory (i.e. to an airport) for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation;
  • implement appropriate approval and screening protocols for seafarers seeking to disembark ships for the purposes of crew changes and repatriation; and
  • provide information to ships and crews on basic protective measures against COVID-19 based on World Health Organisation advice.

While these preliminary recommendations point towards the right direction, still there is a lot that needs to be considered. As recognised ‘key workers’, seafarers will be able to travel to and from a vessel, provided they carry at all times their professional documentation. However, seafarers, who sign off their ships at foreign ports, might not be able to be repatriated, despite their ‘key workers’ status. That is because many countries have now closed their international borders, and so commercial flights have been cancelled until further notice. In these circumstances, it will be up to the seafarers’ country of residency to take appropriate measures for their repatriation.

Furthermore, many countries have now adopted mandatory measures requiring people to self-isolate before they enter their territory depending on whether they had recently visited an affected country. Seafarers will have to adhere to these mandatory measures, irrespective of their ‘key workers’ status. That raises the question as to who should bear the cost for any expenses incurred by seafarers during self-isolation. According to regulation 2.5 of the MLC, 2006, shipowners should cover the costs of repatriation (i.e. travel expenses, food, clothing, accommodation, medical treatment etc) until seafarers are landed at the place of return (i.e. the agreed place under the SEA, the place at which seafarers entered into the SEA or the seafarers’ country of residency). Thus, seafarers who have to self-isolate awaiting repatriation at a foreign country should not bear any costs. It is, however, likely that seafarers who have to self-isolate at the place of return will have to bear the cost for any additional expenses.

Given these complexities, many shipowners now prefer to extend the SEAs instead of signing-off and repatriating crewmembers. However, this cannot be done without the consent of seafarers, unless, of course, the SEAs include a clause to that effect. In any case, any decisions as to the extension of the SEAs should not be taken lightly and should not prejudice the seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing.

Let’s  not be punitive. SCOTUS goes ‘wet’ on unseaworthiness.

 

American seamen have three avenues of recovery against a shipowner in respect of injuries sustained on board a ship: maintenance and cure; the Jones Act; a claim of unseaworthiness.

Punitive damages are available for the first of these, but not the second. The position as regards unseaworthiness was, until recently, unclear with a Circuit split on the issue. This has now been resolved by the Supreme Court’s decision in Dutra Group v Batterton ,588- U.S.. ____ (2019) , to the effect that punitive damages are not recoverable. The  overwhelming historical evidence was against such damages being available in an action for unseaworthiness. A  novel remedy could not be sanctioned unless it is re­quired to maintain uniformity with Congress’s clearly expressed poli­cies, particularly those in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act), under which only compensatory damages were recoverable.

To allow punitive damages on unseaworthiness claims would create bizarre disparities in the law. First, a mariner could make a claim for punitive damages if he was injured onboard a ship, but his estate would lose the right to seek punitivedamages in a wrongful death action if he died from his injuries. Second, because unseaworthi­ness claims run against the owner of the vessel, the owner could be liable for punitive damages while the ship’s master or operator—who could be more culpable—would not be liable for such damages under the Jones Act. Third, allowing punitive damages would place Amer­ican shippers at a significant competitive disadvantage and discour­age foreign-owned vessels from employing American seamen

Bully off. New amendments to Maritime Labour Convention now in effect.

 

On 8 January 2019 the 2016 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention came into effect. These amend Guideline B4.3.1 concerning the provisions on occupational accidents, injuries and diseases so as to include harassment and bullying. Governments and shipowners are expected to adopt measures to improve protection for seafarers from shipboard harassment and bullying using as a reference the Guidance on Eliminating Shipboard Harassment and Bullying  jointly published by the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the International Chamber of Shipping. The amendments also allow for an extension of the validity of maritime labour certificates in circumstances where ships have passed the relevant inspection but where a new certificate cannot immediately be issued and made available on board.

Maritime or non-maritime? The status of oilfield contracts in Louisiana

 

 

On 8 January 2018 the Fifth Circuit  en banc (In re Larry Doiron, Inc., http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-5th-circuit/1885307.html (5th Cir. Jan. 8, 2018 No. 16-30217)) reworked the test for determining whether oilfield contracts are maritime or non-maritime in nature. Under maritime law knock for knock indemnity clauses in oil field service contracts are valid, but under anti-indemnity statutes in some states, such as Louisiana and Texas, they are invalid.

 

The case involved flowback operations performed in state waters on a fixed platform. The master service contract for the flowback work did not call for any vessel involvement. However, during the job the flowback contractor, STS, found a crane was needed to manipulate some of the flowback equipment. A tug and barge were needed to get the crane to the platform and the platform owner had to charter in vessels to allow the flowback contractor to do its work. required the platform owner (Apache) to subcontract with Larry Doiron Inc to charter in the necessary vessels to allow STS to do its work under the MSC.   During the ensuing operations, an STS technician was injured, and LDI sought indemnity from STS under the terms of the Apache-STS MSC (which provided for indemnity from STS to Apache and any of Apache’s subcontractors).

 

The Fifth Circuit set out a new two part test to determine whether or not the contract is maritime in nature. First, is the contract one to provide services to facilitate the drilling or production of oil and gas on navigable waters? Second, if the answer to the above question is “yes,” does the contract provide or do the parties expect that a vessel will play a substantial role in the completion of the contract? If so, the contract is maritime in nature.

 

Applying this new test to this case, the oral work order called for STS to perform downhole work on a gas well that had access only from a platform. After the STS crew began work down hole, the crew encountered an unexpected problem that required a vessel and a crane to lift equipment needed to resolve this problem. The use of the vessel to lift the equipment was an insubstantial part of the job and not work the parties expected to be performed. Therefore, the contract was non maritime and controlled by Louisiana law which barred the indemnity under Louisiana Oilfield Indemnity Act.

Coming soon. Insurance obligations of shipowners under the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention.

 

 

As from 18 January 2017 ships subject to the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention will have to display certificates required confirming insurance or other financial security is in place for: the cost and expense of crew repatriation; up to four months contractually entitled arrears of wages and entitlements following abandonment; a further certificate covering contractual liabilities to seafarers for personal injury, disability or death.

The EU Referendum. Part Three. Losing our Directives?

 Since 2000 the EU has become increasingly active in the maritime sphere as regards safety and the environment. This has led to a series of Directives, set out below, which will cease to have effect under the implementing statutory instruments in the UK on repeal of the European Communities Act 1972.

First off, there is the series of Directives generated under the third maritime safety package, known as ERIKA III, which entered into force on 17th June 2009.

–  Directive 2009/21/EC on compliance with flag state requirements

– Directive 2009/15/EC and Regulation (EC) No. 391/2009 on common rules and standards for ship inspections and survey organisations

–  Directive 2009/16/EC on port State control

– Directive 2009/17/EC establishing a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system

– Directive 2009/18/EC establishing the fundamental principles governing the investigation of accidents in the maritime transport sector

– Directive 2009/20/EC on the insurance of shipowners for maritime claims

This gives Member States the power to expel from their ports vessels which do not have a certificate showing liability for maritime claims up to the limits in the 1976 LLMC as amended by the 1996 Protocol.

Erika III also produced a Regulation.

Regulation (EC) No. 392/2009 on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea in the event of accidents. This brought the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention into force within the EU in 2012. The UK has ratified the Protocol and on 28 May 2014 brought it into domestic law through a statutory instrument The Merchant Shipping (Convention Relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea) Order 2014 deriving from the powers conferred by sections 183(4) and (6) and 184(1) and (3) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995

 Other notable Directives in the maritime sphere are

Directive 2005/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on shipsource pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements

This criminalises ship source pollution in cases of ‘serious negligence’ and was the subject of a decision of the ECJ in 2008 in the Intertanko case C-308/06 in which it decided that the legality of the Directive could not be assessed in the light of either MARPOL or UNCLOS.

Directive 2012/33/ on the Sulphur Content of Maritime Fuels.

This came into effect on 1 January 2015 and requires ships sailing in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea (the North European emission control area) to use bunker oil with a maximum 0.1% sulphur or apply alternative methods in order to achieve the same effect.

Directive 2013/30/EU on the safety of offshore oil and gas operations and amending Directive 2004/35/EC

This was the EU response to the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ blowout in 2010. The Directive aims to prevent the occurrence of a ‘Deepwater Horizon’ in offshore installations in the EU but also addresses, in part, the response should such an incident occur, through three provisions. First, art. 38 extends the territorial scope of the Environmental Liability Directive 2004 (the ‘ELD’) from coastal waters to waters within the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf of Member States, up to 370 km from shore. Second, art.7 requires Member States to ensure that the licensee is financially liable for the prevention and remediation of “environmental damage” – i.e. damage falling within the ELD – caused by offshore oil and gas operations carried out by, or on behalf of, the licensee or the operator. Third, art.4 requires Member States “to require the licensee to maintain sufficient capacity to meet their financial obligations resulting from liabilities for offshore oil and gas operations.” and, when granting or transferring licenses, to take due account of, inter alia, “the applicant’s financial capabilities, including any financial security, to cover liabilities potentially deriving from the offshore oil and gas operations in question including liability for potential economic damages where such liability is provided for by national law”. These provisions came into effect on 19 July 2015.

It is, of course, open for Parliament to provide for the continuation of the statutory instruments implementing these Directives.

The House of Commons Briefing Paper of 30 June suggests (p14):

There might be some over-arching legislation saying, for example, that all UK laws implementing any EU Directive were repealed (perhaps with specified exceptions); or that they would all remain in force (again perhaps with exceptions). If the ECA were repealed, any secondary legislation based on s2(2) ECA would need to be saved from lapsing if it was to continue in force. EU Regulations, which are directly applicable (i.e. they do not need further implementation in the UK to come into force) will cease to have effect if the UK were to repeal the ECA.

There is no reason why EU-based UK law could not remain part of UK law, but the Government would have to make sure it still worked without the UK being in the EU.

The Government would probably come up with a mechanism for allowing changes to be made to secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments) made under the ECA or other ‘parent’ acts. There could also be general amendments, such as replacing references to ‘the Commission’ or ‘Council’ with references to ‘the Secretary of State’.

The devolved legislatures would have to deal with EU legislation they have transposed into Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish laws. It would also be necessary to amend the relevant parts of the devolution legislation, which might require a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention.

Vessel in drydock might still be ‘in navigation’ under Jones Act.

In Gold v. Helix Energy Solutions Group, Inc., No. 14-15-00123-CV, (Tex. App. Dec. 15, 2015) the Texas Court of Appeals has held that a drill ship that had been in dry dock for conversion for 20 months might still be regarded as being ‘in navigation’ and so within the Jones Act. The case arose out of an injury to a seaman on board the vessel while in drydock in Singapore. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment sought by the shipowners.