Port Responsiveness in the fight against
the “invisible” threat: COVID-19


In the current unprecedented times of a global threat posed by a coronavirus pandemic that has triggered dire consequences for whole societies and nations, the maritime industry is playing an essential role in the response. Around 80% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping. This includes currently most-needed items such as vital medical supplies and equipment, as well as food, energy, raw materials and manufactured goods and components. These are essential for addressing people’s basic needs and for preserving many jobs in manufacturing, maintaining international trade and, in the end, sustaining the global economy.


In view of this, it is important to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade to continue. This requires that the world’s ports remain open for ship calls and that ship crews’ changeover is allowed. Further, in these challenging times, some additional measures should be undertaken to protect the staff working in port communities and to ensure continuity of ports’ operations.


Based on several documents received from ports that are part of the UNCTAD TrainForTrade Network, the following measures have been implemented/observed and could serve as generic guidelines:


  • Constantly promote and enforce preventive hygiene measures (handwashing)
  • Limit physical interaction between onboard and onshore staff. Ship crew should communicate with quayside staff by radio or telephone
  • Respect physical distancing rules – stay 2 metres apart
  • Increase the use of digital documentation to limit human contact to the minimum
  • Provide adequate and sufficient protective equipment to the staff (face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, glasses)
  • Augment the sanitation of surfaces that come in contact with hands
  • Establish a point of control in the perimeter of the port area to monitor temperature and related symptoms (automated temperature screening) and equip it with anti-bacterial solutions and sanitizers
  • Establish a waste disposal policy for “suspicious” cases
  • Fumigate and disinfect all passenger terminals/areas
  • Disinfect and monitor cargo
  • Have a passenger information system for easy contact tracing and an isolated holding and testing area for COVID-19 symptomatic port users
  • Institute a protocol for disembarking passengers/crew requiring immediate medical care in coordination with the national health authority (1)
  • Identify decontamination areas in the port buildings


(1) Under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention of 2006, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working onboard. The Convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities onshore.


It is crucial to keep the country’s borders open for all forms of freight transport, in particular ports considered to be essential national assets. Governments need to ensure that health measures are implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade; in particular, by respecting the requirements of “free pratique” for ships under the International Health Regulations (IHR). The principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay in port entry for ships, persons and property on board are also embodied in articles I and V and section 6 of the annex of the Convention of the Facilitation of Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention). This is underscored by the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The way forward

As ports moved forward to win the battle against this pandemic, several milestones needed to be achieved:

  1. Boost Internet capabilities and accessibility inside and outside port areas for port workers and users alike. Connectivity as mentioned by the World Bank Group is a “public good” after all;
  2. Increase connectivity and data interoperability in Global Supply Chains by implementing Port Community Systems and taking advantage of Digital Ledger Technology the likes of Blockchain as promoted by the World Economic Forum (WEF);
  3. Develop shorter and more diversified supply chains supported by advanced automation and labor-protective relocations in line with climate change objectives;
  4. Reinforce port regional cooperation to build more resilient trade nodes to brace for future COVID-19 pandemic-like shocks;
  5. Design new policies for resilient and inclusive ports to reach out to the most vulnerable people who are often dependent on the port communities’ economic and social fabric; and
  6. Engage in innovative training approaches and well-being at all-staff levels leveraging on the technology.

Lastly, thanks to the support of the United Nations Development Account ( and following requests from port members, UNCTAD engaged in the development of a TrainForTrade training and capacity building package called “Building Port Resilience Against Pandemics” (BPR) that will be made available to port communities around the world.

The structure of this BPR course has been defined during eBrainstorming sessions in May and June 2020 with port experts from the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, Greece and the IAPH Secretariat.

Crisis Protocol

The following section presents an example of a crisis protocol that can be used as a guide on actions that should be implemented in relation to strictly defined crisis levels.

Other known hazards

Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

Information collected from the following entities


Ireland Dublin Port Company COVID-19 guidance for supply chain workers

Emergency management plan

Marine notice

Ireland Port of Cork Company Operational contingency planning

Business continuity actions list

Malaysia JohorPort Communication to all shipping agents
Philippines Philippines Ports Authority Memorandum circular for all ports in Luzon. Involvement of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases

Memorandum on no sail policy

Ghana Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority Letter to ship agents in Takoradi: measures to curtail infection at the ship side
Letter to all port stakeholders: Suspected case of COVID-19 on board a vessel at the port of Tema
Standard operating procedures for COVID-19 in the ports of Tema and of Takoradi
Summary of emergency protocol – Flow chart
Ghana Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority Update on GPHA COVID-19 Preparedness and Prevention Activities GPHA COVID-19
United Kingdom United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) – Strategy for Maintaining Pilotage Operations
Circular: Pilotage Operations during COVID-19
Belfast Harbour Safety Induction and Harbour Pass Requirements


Dominican Republic Haina International Terminals Protocolo de Crisis Coronavirus 2020

Ejecución del Protocolo de Crisis Coronavirus 2020

Spain Port Authority of Gijon Información para los trabajadores

Información sobre la aplicación de protocolos COVID-19 en servicios esenciales del Puerto de Gijón

Plan de actuación de la Autoridad Portuaria de Gijón ante el COVID-19

Comunicación a los usuarios del puerto

Spain Port Authority of Valencia Pautas De Actuación A Seguir Por La Dirección Facultativa De Las Obras Portuarias En Curso De Ejecución Ante La Situación De Emergencia Sanitaria Creada Por El Covid-19.

Procedimiento Autorización Excepcional De Entrada De Buques De Pasaje En Puertos Españoles

Recomendaciones De Actuación Para Las Autoridades Portuarias Ante La Crisis Creada Por El Covid-19 Y Medidas Adoptadas Por Puertos Del Estado.

Estancia Prolongada En Puerto / Tripulación Mínima De Seguridad

Consejos Para El Buque En El Embarque Del Practico

Buenas Prácticas Sobre Medidas De Prevención Y Actuación Ante El Covid-19 En El Servicio Portuario De Manipulación De Mercancías

Buenas Prácticas Sobre Medidas De Prevención Y Actuación Ante El Covid-19 En El Servicio Portuario De Practicaje

Plan De Contingencia De La Autoridad Portuaria De Valencia Frente Al Coronavirus

Argentina Port Buenos Aires Prevención Covid-19 En El Transporte Fluvial, Marítimo Y Lacustre
Peru Autoridad Portuaria Nacional Norma Que Dicta Los Lineamientos Minimos Para La Elaboración Del Plan De Continuidad Operativa De Los Terminales Portuarios A Nivel Nacional
Comunidad Andina Comunidad Andina Protocolo sobre medidas de prevención sanitaria para las operaciones de tránsito aduanero entre los países de la ComunidadAndina, establecidas ante la pandemia del COVID19


Benin Port Autonome de Cotonou Note de service portant suspension des missions dans le cadre de la prévention contre le Coronavirus au PAC
Benin Société Béninoise de Manutention Portuaire (SOBEMAP) Note circulaire portant sur règles préventives relatives au COVID-19
Cameroon Port Autonome de Douala Note d’information et d’instruction portant sur l’organisation des activités dans le cadre de la lutte contre la propagation de la pandémie du coronavirus au PAD
Cameroon Port Autonome de Douala Note d’Instruction portant sur les mesures additionnelles dans le cadre de la lutte contre la propagation de la pandémie du Coronavirus au PAD
Cameroon Port Autonome de Douala Note on preventive measures (English)
Cameroon Port Autonome de Douala Note d’instruction, mesures additionnelles
Cameroon Port Autonome de Douala (PAD) Continuité des activités au PAD dans le context de la pandémie du Covid-19
Côte d’Ivoire Port Autonome d’Abidjan Note aux usagers : Dispositions sécuritaires face à la menace du coronavirus
Côte d’Ivoire Port Autonome d’Abidjan Message aux Consignataires et Armateurs : Contrôles sanitaires maritimes au PAA
France Marseille-Fos MARSEILLE FOS Commitment Pact(Website)
France Marseille-Fos Communiqué de presse « Continuité de l’activité du Port de Marseille Fos (COVID-19) »
France Marseille-Fos Communiqué de presse Christine Rosso (GPMM) : « Le port reste ouvert à tous les navires de marchandises »
France UMF Marseille-Fos Communiqué de presse Union Maritime et Fluviale Marseille-Fos
France Port de Nantes Saint-Nazaire Communiqué de presse « L’activité portuaire maintenue à Nantes Saint-Nazaire »
France Port de Nantes Saint-Nazaire Information aux entreprises et agents sur le port de Nantes Saint-Nazaire
Mauritania Port Autonome de Nouakchott dit Port de l’Amitié (PANPA) Circulaire à tous partenaires portuaires sur les conditions d’escales de navires
Mauritania Port Autonome de Nouadhibou (PAN) Avis aux usagés du PAN
Sénégal Ministère des Pêches et de l’Économie Maritime Circulaire concernant les équipages des navires étrangers touchant les ports sénégalais
Sénégal Ministère des Pêches et de l’Économie Maritime Circulaire concernant mesures additionnelles dans le cadre de la prévention contre la propagation de la pandémie COVID 19
Sénégal Port Autonome de Dakar Note circulaire : Modifications des conditions d’accueil des navires (French)
Togo Port Autonome de Lomé Communiqué de presse « COVID-19 »


United Kingdom Port of London Authority NOTICE TO AGENTS, BERTH AND SHIP OPERATORS No.8
United Kingdom Port of Liverpool (Peel Port) Peel Port – COVID19 Pilot Embarkation Procedures (1)
United Kingdom Maritime Coastguard Agency NAVIGATION: Vessel Traffic Services – COVID-19 Impact and Safety Measures
United Kingdom British Ports Association UK ports and coronavirus
South Africa Transnet National Ports Authority Chief Harbour Master – Notice No. 4 – Health Risk Alert – COVID-19
South Korea Busan Port Authority’s Korea’s Fight against COVID19
South Korea Busan Port Authority’s Busan Port Authority’s COVID-19 Contingency Plans

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Relevant links

United Nations General Assembly

International cooperation to address challenges faced by seafarers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to support global supply chains ( Resolution A/75/L.37 Nov 2020)

A_75_L.37_English A_75_L.37_French A_75_L.37_Spanish

World Health Organisation (WHO)

Updated WHO recommendations for international traffic in relation to COVID-19 outbreak

Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships

Preliminary list of recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID-19


International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes during the COVID-19 pandemic Circular No.4204-Add.14


World Customs Organization (WCO)

WCO Guidance on how to communicate during a crisis
French version Orientation de l’OMD…


United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

Observatory on Border Crossings Status due to COVID-19


Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO)



European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO)

COVID-19 | Transport keeps us going


International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH)

COVID-19 related updates of the IAPH Member Ports


Wilhelmsen Group

COVID-19 Global Port Restrictions Map



How coronavirus affects shipping: Everything you need to know


The Neptude Declaration

The Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change (Jan. 2021)



Shipping industry presents IMO with COVID-19 trade recommendations




EU Commission

The European Commission has issued guidelines aimed at helping to repatriate seafarers stuck on ships amid coronavirus lock-down measures and resolve the current crew-change
Directrices sobre medidas de gestión de fronteras para proteger la salud y garantizar la disponibilidad de los bienes y de los servicios esenciales


Oil Companies International Marine Forum

Best practice precautions for carrying out the pre-transfer conference during the COVID 19 Pandemic : Ship-shore safety checklist, Bunkering safety checklist
Precauciones de mejores prácticas para llevar a cabo la conferencia previa a la transferencia durante la pandemia COVID




MedPorts Association

Ports Responses facing Covid-19



Information regarding the status of all national COVID-19 restrictions for the Danube