COVID-19 and the Maltese Shipping Industry:
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The outbreak of Covid-19 has caused the local shipping industry to have to navigate its way through unchartered waters. A number of Legal Notices issued by the Maltese Authorities and Port Notices released by the Ports and Yachting Directorate implementing measures to prevent further spreading of the virus have directly affected the world of shipping as we know it.
Whereas Legal Notice 42 of 2020 introduced a travel ban on persons to and from certain countries, Legal Notice 92 of 2020 ‘overrides’ Legal Notice 42 of 2020 as it extended the order of the travel ban on persons to cover all countries, subject only to a handful of exemptions, with anyone still entering the country being subject to 14 days mandatory quarantine by virtue of Legal Notice 63 of 2020. Whilst the travel ban does not apply to cargo ships, container ships and ro-ro vessels carrying essential commodities or to tankers carrying essential fuels, all these legal notices have inevitably had a direct impact as they impose operational limitations.
With effect from 16th March 2020, Legal Notice 65 of 2020 as updated by Legal Notice 97 of 2020 have brought about the indefinite closure of the Courts of Justice and the Court Registry. Whilst the Courts of Justice still remains closed, with effect from 4th May 2020, the Court Registry has now opened by virtue of Legal Notice 177 of 2020.
Furthermore, by virtue of Legal Notice 61 of 2020 as updated by Legal Notice 84 of 2020, all legal and judicial times have also been suspended until the reopening of the Courts. This remains the case till today, with the exception of promise of sale agreements in accordance with Legal Notice 177 of 2020.
Through Port Notices 04/20, 05/20, 06/20 and 10/20, the Ports and Yachting Directorate announced precautionary measures to better manage the outbreak of Covid-19. A temporary ban on the entry of cruise liners and passenger ships into Maltese territorial waters and ports was introduced with immediate effect through Port Notice 05/20. Up until this ban is lifted, a vessel may only be granted a conditional permit to be rendered an essential service at a designated anchorage in exceptional circumstances, assessed on a case by case basis.
Any vessel that has been cleared and is able to obtain services in Maltese waters and ports must comply with the following measures contained in Port Notice 06/20. This Port Notice prohibits crew members from disembarking from the vessel at all times; restricts shore personnel (other than maritime pilots, port foremen, port workers and terminal personnel
handling cargo) from boarding the vessels unless they have received written authorization from the Port Health medic; instructs personnel granted authorization to board vessels to make minimal interaction with crew; orders crew of bunker barges, crew of service conveyance launches and technical personnel to obtain authorization from the Port Health Medic before boarding vessels and subjects them to mandatory quarantine upon disembarking from the vessel and all necessary precautions must be adopted by any person who is authorized to board a vessel. Port Notice 06/20 appeals to all relevant persons to report any unplanned interactions with third parties or crew members to the Port Health Medic and for them to comply with any instructions given; to ensure that all berthed vessels ordered to quarantine comply accordingly and to report any incidents of non-compliance with the above mentioned Port Notices and Legal Notices to the Authorities and the Port Health Medic.
Port Notice 10/2020 (to be read in conjunction with the abovementioned Port Notice 06/20) sets out a framework of protocol for conducting maritime support services and outlines the measures applicable to all vessels that have been cleared to obtain services in Maltese waters and ports. An exemption is provided to the travel ban which is currently in place for cases of repatriation and in connection with ship operations, decided on a case by case basis once an a request is made to the Superintendent of Public Health. If approved, all necessary conditions that must be adhered to will be communicated by the Port Health Office. Requests for entry of pleasure/commercial yachts to Maltese ports as well as ship maintenance requests are still to be referred to the Superintendent of Public Health for consideration on a case by case basis. If approved, the conditions (including those applicable to crew on board) will also be communicated by the Port Health Office.
Merchant Shipping Notices:
The Merchant Shipping Directorate has responded to the challenges being faced by shipowners, ship operators, managers and masters of Maltese flagged vessels by implementing a number of measures with the aim of mitigating the impact that COVID-19 will have through Merchant Shipping Notices 157, 158 and 160.
Merchant Shipping Notice 157 served to draw the attention of all concerned to the cluster of identified cases in China and provide a list of precautions to be adopted on board Maltese flagged vessels to avoid the contracting and spreading of the virus. In view of these exceptional circumstances, once the virus was declared a pandemic the Directorate issued Merchant Shipping Notice 158 providing for the extension of: (i) sea service beyond the seafarer employment agreement period for a maximum period of three months, which may be further extended should the situation remain the same; (ii) the validity of seafarer certificates / Flag State Endorsement beyond its expiry, up to the date of the extended validity of the Certificate of Competence issued by an Administration other than Malta; and (iii) statutory certificates, surveys, audits and inspections which will be considered on a cases by case basis.
In order to further safeguard the Maltese shipping community and to continue to provide an uninterrupted service, the Directorate announced that payment of all registration fees and annual tonnage tax fees of merchant ships falling due on or after 1st April 2020 may be
deferred by a period of three months from date when payment was originally due. Merchant Shipping Notice 160 makes it clear that requests for renewal Certificates of Registry can still be made when seeking a deferral of payment of relevant fees.
Whilst the world strives to strike a balance between continuing with operations and preventing the risk of further spread, we remain at your disposition to guide you further with any queries you may have.
Disclaimer: The above is not intended as legal advice. Anyone requiring assistance is encouraged to contact us directly.