Ports in the Fight against 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 (https://www.un.org/development/desa/da/da-response-to-covid-19/) 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.

Information collected from the following entities

(Ports, Authorities, etc…)


IrelandDublin Port CompanyCOVID-19 guidance for supply chain workers
Emergency management plan Marine notice
IrelandPort of Cork CompanyOperational contingency planning
Business continuity actions list
MalaysiaJohorPortCommunication to all shipping agents
PhilippinesPhilippines Ports AuthorityMemorandum 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
GhanaGhana Ports and Harbour AuthorityLetter 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
GhanaGhana Ports and Harbour AuthorityUpdate on GPHA COVID-19 Preparedness and Prevention Activities GPHA COVID-19
United KingdomUnited Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ AssociationNovel Coronavirus (Covid-19) – Strategy for Maintaining Pilotage Operations
Circular: Pilotage Operations during COVID-19
Belfast HarbourSafety Induction and Harbour Pass Requirements


Dominican RepublicHaina International TerminalsProtocolo de Crisis Coronavirus 2020 Ejecución del Protocolo de Crisis Coronavirus 2020
SpainPort Authority of GijonInformación 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
SpainPort Authority of ValenciaPautas 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
ArgentinaPort Buenos AiresPrevención Covid-19 En El Transporte Fluvial, Marítimo Y Lacustre
PeruAutoridad Portuaria NacionalNorma Que Dicta Los Lineamientos Minimos Para La Elaboración Del Plan De Continuidad Operativa De Los Terminales Portuarios A Nivel Nacional
Comunidad AndinaComunidad AndinaProtocolo sobre medidas de prevención sanitaria para las operaciones de tránsito aduanero entre los países de la ComunidadAndina, establecidas ante la pandemia del COVID19


BeninPort Autonome de CotonouNote de service portant suspension des missions dans le cadre de la prévention contre le Coronavirus au PAC
BeninSociété Béninoise de Manutention Portuaire (SOBEMAP)Note circulaire portant sur règles préventives relatives au COVID-19
CameroonPort Autonome de DoualaNote 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
CameroonPort Autonome de DoualaNote d’Instruction portant sur les mesures additionnelles dans le cadre de la lutte contre la propagation de la pandémie du Coronavirus au PAD
CameroonPort Autonome de DoualaNote on preventive measures (English)
CameroonPort Autonome de DoualaNote d’instruction, mesures additionnelles
CameroonPort Autonome de Douala (PAD)Continuité des activités au PAD dans le context de la pandémie du Covid-19
Côte d’IvoirePort Autonome d’AbidjanNote aux usagers : Dispositions sécuritaires face à la menace du coronavirus
Côte d’IvoirePort Autonome d’AbidjanMessage aux Consignataires et Armateurs : Contrôles sanitaires maritimes au PAA
FranceMarseille-FosMARSEILLE FOS Commitment Pact(Website)
FranceMarseille-FosCommuniqué de presse « Continuité de l’activité du Port de Marseille Fos (COVID-19) »
FranceMarseille-FosCommuniqué de presse Christine Rosso (GPMM) : « Le port reste ouvert à tous les navires de marchandises »
FranceUMF Marseille-FosCommuniqué de presse Union Maritime et Fluviale Marseille-Fos
FrancePort de Nantes Saint-NazaireCommuniqué de presse « L’activité portuaire maintenue à Nantes Saint-Nazaire »
FrancePort de Nantes Saint-NazaireInformation aux entreprises et agents sur le port de Nantes Saint-Nazaire
MauritaniaPort Autonome de Nouakchott dit Port de l’Amitié (PANPA)Circulaire à tous partenaires portuaires sur les conditions d’escales de navires
MauritaniaPort Autonome de Nouadhibou (PAN)Avis aux usagés du PAN
SénégalMinistère des Pêches et de l’Économie MaritimeCirculaire concernant les équipages des navires étrangers touchant les ports sénégalais
SénégalMinistère des Pêches et de l’Économie MaritimeCirculaire concernant mesures additionnelles dans le cadre de la prévention contre la propagation de la pandémie COVID 19
SénégalPort Autonome de DakarNote circulaire : Modifications des conditions d’accueil des navires (French)
TogoPort Autonome de LoméCommuniqué de presse « COVID-19 »


United KingdomPort of London AuthorityNOTICE TO AGENTS, BERTH AND SHIP OPERATORS No.8
United KingdomPort of Liverpool (Peel Port)Peel Port – COVID19 Pilot Embarkation Procedures (1)
United KingdomMaritime Coastguard AgencyNAVIGATION: Vessel Traffic Services – COVID-19 Impact and Safety Measures
United KingdomBritish Ports AssociationUK ports and coronavirus
South AfricaTransnet National Ports AuthorityChief Harbour Master – Notice No. 4 – Health Risk Alert – COVID-19
South KoreaBusan Port Authority’sKorea’s Fight against COVID19
South KoreaBusan Port Authority’sBusan Port Authority’s COVID-19 Contingency Plans

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 checklistBunkering 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 www.medports.org


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

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