Health and safety protocols at Jamaica’s ports heightened due to coronavirus threats

The Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) has advised that customary health and safety protocols that form part of routine port operations at both cargo and cruise ports have been heightened in light of the threat of the coronavirus.

The PAJ’s Security Department is responsible for monitoring all ports in Jamaica to ensure compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. Currently, there are 20 port facilities across the island that trade internationally. Three of these ports are public ports which receive containers from all over the world.

National response

In 2015, a protocol was developed for a national response to the Ebola threat which was coordinated by the Jamaica Defense Force and included all agencies with responsibility for border protection. The protocols apply to all infectious diseases, and with the current coronavirus threat, similar protocols are in effect.

In relation to the current threat from the coronavirus, all responses are led by the Ministry of Health (MoH) which also manages the Quarantine Department. As per the normal course of port operations, the Quarantine Department of the MoH is the first to board a vessel to ensure that all health and safety protocols are observed. Customarily, shipping agents are required to supply the PAJ’s Marine Pilot’s Office and the Quarantine Department with the vessel’s last five ports of call as well as the health conditions prevailing on board in order to assess the threat posed to our ports. Ships are not allowed to proceed to port unless the Quarantine Department has satisfied itself regarding the health conditions on board. Providing the Quarantine Department is satisfied that health conditions are safe, a pilot is then dispatched to the vessel.  

The Port Authority of Jamaica has promised to closely monitor the island’s ports in light of coronavirus threats. (Photo: seatrade-maritime.com)

Rules pertaining to the quarantine

The Ministry of Health has established rules pertaining to the quarantine of individuals for the Coronavirus 2019 (2019 N-COV). As per Section 8 (1) of the Quarantine Act, the following rules are recommended for all vessels to include aircraft and ships, and have been put in place effective Friday, January 31, 2020:

  1. Persons who visited China in the last 14 days and who do not have permanent residency or marriage exemption in Jamaica will not be granted landing privileges at any of the island’s ports of entry;
  2. All individuals (Jamaicans and Non-Jamaicans) who are landed and who have visited China in the last 14 days will be subject to a health assessment and quarantine;
  3. Persons who are classified by the Ministry of Health and Wellness as high risk will be quarantined in Government facilities, and those at low risk will be quarantined at home under the supervision of the Parish Health Department; and
  4. Individuals returning from China who have been granted landing privileges and who show any symptom of the novel Coronavirus 2019 will be put in immediate isolation.

Cruise shipping operations

As it relates to cruise shipping operations, almost all of the cruise ships that call at Jamaica’s cruise ports originate from the United States which is doing intensive screening at their ports. Our homeport, the Port of Montego Bay, accommodates ships that are primarily German and British which have been screened before arriving in Jamaica and again at the Port of Montego Bay upon arrival. Since the threat of the coronavirus, the cruise industry has implemented strict screening policies at their homeports before allowing passengers to embark.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton (left), tests a handheld thermal scanner on Public Health Nurse, Deborah Udo Udo, during a tour of the isolation unit at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston recently.

On February 7, 2020, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which is the leading voice of the global cruise industry, issued a response to recent developments concerning the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global cruise industry as outlined below:

  1. “CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who have travelled from, visited or transited via airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, within 14 days before embarkation.
  2. CLIA Members are to deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days before embarkation, have had close contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having Coronavirus, or who is currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to Novel Coronavirus.
  3. CLIA Members are to conduct preboarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected Novel Coronavirus.
  4. In coordination with cruise lines, medical experts and regulators around the world, CLIA and its member lines will continue to closely monitor for new developments related to the coronavirus and will modify these policies as necessary with the utmost consideration for the health and safety of passengers and crew.
  5. Importantly, the cruise industry is one of the most well-equipped and experienced when it comes to managing and monitoring health conditions of those on board, with outbreak prevention and response measures in place year-round. Furthermore, ships must be fitted with onboard medical facilities, with shipboard medical professionals available around the clock to provide initial medical care in the event of illness and help prevent disease transmission.”

Closely monitor the situation

According to the CLIA, “these enhanced policies, which are in effect as of  February 7,  2020, build upon those which were implemented on 31 January 2020 and continue to allow for informed decisions on a case-by-case basis, whether a guest or crewmember will be permitted to board.”

The PAJ’s Security Department is in constant communication with the security managers at the 20 port facilities engaging in international trade, by sharing information from the MoH and the World Health Organization to keep them informed of developments relating to health issues. Training and sensitisation sessions are held occasionally for security officers to ensure that are aware of new developments and safety protocols. All ports have started to sensitise their employees on the facts of the virus as well as on preventative measures to be taken to curtail its spread.

The PAJ seeks to allay all fears as it continues to closely monitor the situation. The organisation maintains its effective management of all our ports and consistently ensures that all health and safety protocols are always observed.