Navigating Sea Transportation in Indonesia During COVID-19

Fahrul S. YusufPartner, SSEK Legal Consultants

By Stephen Igor Warokka and Shafira Nindya Putri

The Indonesian Directorate General of Sea Transportation (“DGST”), at the Ministry of Transportation, has issued several circular letters aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. This article discusses measures taken in Indonesian ports, including terminals, as well as measures concerning ship crews.

Indonesian Ports and Terminals

During the early spread of COVID-19, and in response to Indonesian Director General of Disease Prevention and Control of the Ministry of Health the Circular Letter No. PM.04.02/III/43/2020 dated January 3, 2020, and International Maritime Organization Circular Letter No. 4204 dated January 31, 2020, the DGST issued Circular Letter No. 5 of 2020 regarding Anticipating Coronavirus Spread in Port Areas in Indonesia dated February 5, 2020 (“DGST CL 5/2020”). The DGST instructs all port operators to identify all ships arriving from abroad, including those in transit, especially from countries with COVID-19 cases. Port operators are also instructed to intensify supervision of ships, especially those from mainland China and Hong Kong. Under this Circular Letter, the DGST also establishes a special integrated task force to handle the spread of severe pneumonia disease from sea transportation.

The DGST then issued Circular Letter No. 8 of 2020 regarding Preventive Steps Against the Spread of Coronavirus in Indonesian Ports dated March 5, 2020 (“DGST CL 8/2020”). This Circular Letter provides guidelines for handling passengers arriving in Indonesian ports. It instructs all DGST Technical Implementation Units to take the following preventive measures:

  1. determine if incoming ships are arriving from countries affected by COVID-19;
  2. coordinate with health quarantine personnel to identify and handle arriving passengers with COVID-19 symptoms;
  3. ensure the international terminal and other locations in the port are equipped with sufficient body temperature scanners and hand sanitizer;
  4. ensure port operators are vigilant in maintaining the hygiene of terminals by spraying disinfectant periodically; and
  5. report any potential spread of COVID-19.

Limitations on Sea Transportation

DGST Circular Letter No. 13 of 2020 regarding Limitations on Passengers Aboard Ships, Logistics Transportation and Port Services During the COVID-19 Outbreak Management Emergency Period (“DGST CL 13/2020”) emphasizes the importance of cooperation between regional governments where ports are located and the DGST with respect to potential port closures. The aim of such cooperation is to ensure the DGST is able to carry out a proper evaluation before any closure is decided.

Under DGST CL 13/2020, passenger ships can continue to operate, with some limitations that must be communicated to the relevant stakeholders in the shipping industry as well as potential passengers. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the measures put in place by DGST CL 13/2020 are not as strict as some may have hoped in limiting the traffic of individuals and goods going in and out of Indonesian ports. For example, instead of suspending all travel by sea transportation, DGST CL 13/2020 only instructs relevant port authorities to disseminate information to passengers on the risks of traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak.

DGST CL 13/2020 does prioritize access for ships carrying Indonesian nationals from abroad, on-duty police officers and military personnel, primary and crucial goods and supplies, and people who are ill and need to be moved to COVID-19 referral hospitals. DGST CL 13/2020 also ensures that port services, such as berthing and unloading services, shall be made available for cargo ships carrying supplies, goods for infrastructure development and export commodities.

Ban on Foreign Cruise Ships

DGST CL 13/2020 bans foreign-flagged cruise ships from berthing at Indonesian ports. If a foreign-flagged cruise ship needs to refuel and disembark crew members for such purpose, it must first apply for a permit in the determined anchorage area and only for the period stated in the Foreign Ship Agency Approval (Persetujuan Keagenan Kapal Asing). Specifically for foreign-flagged ships sheltering in the Riau Islands, crew disembarkation and refueling may only be done in the Ship-to-Ship and Lay-Up locations at Nipah Island, Balai Karimun Cape and Galang Island.

Foreign crew members are prohibited from disembarking except in the determined anchorage area. In the event of an emergency medical situation involving a foreign crew member, such person may be disembarked from the ship only after the COVID-19 Task Force in the relevant port has issued its authorization.

DGST CL 13/2020 also emphasizes the importance of maintaining good hygiene, practicing social and physical distancing and supplementing ships with sanitation facilities and COVID-19 prevention announcements. Only if perceived as necessary in preventing the accelerating spread of COVID-19 can ship operators limit the number of passengers allowed onboard.

Ship Crews and Operators

DGST Circular Letter No. 11 of 2020 regarding Contingency Plan for Seafarers and Vessel Operators dated March 24, 2020 (“DGST CL 11/2020”) prescribes exemptions and relaxations for ship crews and ship owners and/or operators with respect to the management of crew certification and documentation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides an exemption for the Minimum Safe Manning Document in case there are crew members who must be disembarked due to COVID-19 and the ship owners are unable to find replacements. If a Seaman’s Book (Buku Pelaut) expires while the relevant crew member is onboard and not permitted to enter the port or the transit country has implemented a lockdown in response to COVID-19, the expired Seaman’s Book may be deemed as valid until the relevant authorities in the transit country allow the crew member to disembark and renew the Seaman’s Book at the Indonesian Embassy.

DGST CL 11/2020 also relaxes the Medical Certificate for Seafarers, pursuant to Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Regulation 1/9 and Maritime Labor Convention 2006, allowing the certificate to remain valid for an additional three months after its expiration in certain circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, foreign nationals working on Indonesian-flagged ships whose Certificate of Recognition (“COR”) expires between March 1 and May 31, 2020, may email a copy of their certificate and DGST CL 11/2020 to the Directorate of Shipping and Navigation and a temporary COR valid for three months will be issued. (April 8, 2020)

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