Letter Belgian Maritime Inspectorate: extention of certificates due to COVID-19

To shipowners, shipping companies and ship managers. The world is currently facing a health crisis due to COVID-19, which has a significant impact on the international trade, and more in particular the shipping industry. It is of strategic importance that the international trade through shipping, can continue uninterrupted throughout the crisis, ensuring the essential supply of goods. Following the drastic reduction of people transport through air travel, shipping continues playing a crucial role in the supply chain. The shipping is primarily an economically driven industry, not directly affected by COVID-21. However shipping is also people driven industry, making it also vulnerable not only health related, but also to the stringent measures imposed by each individual nation. The international shipping is currently facing, increasingly national and local restrictions including: • Delayed port clearance; • Prevention of crew or passengers from embarking or disembarking (preventing shore leave and crew changes); • Prevention of discharging or loading cargo or stores, or taking on fuel, water, food and supplies; and • Imposition of quarantine or refusal of port entry to ships (in extreme cases). Travel, both nationally and internationally, has become more increasingly difficult as travel bans have been imposed. Combined travel restrictions given by governments and companies cause difficulties with providing inspectors and seafarers when needed. Furthermore, numerous of shipyards cannot accommodate vessels, even for booked and planned inspections and surveys which require dry-dock. Based on the above conditions, the Belgian Maritime Inspectorate (BMI) considers the COVID-19 outbreak to be a force majeure situation. The Belgian Maritime Inspectorate, itself, also has been impacted by the national measures taken in the combat against COVID-19. In an effort to further reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the health risk to our staff, as from Wednesday 18 of March 2020, BMI has ceased all surveys, inspections and audits of the ships flying the Belgian flag and the companies operating ships under Belgian flag, until further notice. The Belgian Maritime Inspectorate recognizes that the shipping operates within a regulated world, ensuring safety, security, environmental protection, decent living and working conditions, through international regulatory instruments. The Belgian Maritime Inspectorate further recognizes the importance of the economical continuity of the shipping. Therefore the Belgian Maritime Inspectorate is strongly committed to guarantee maximum assistance and support, to its ability and within its statutory powers, to the shipowners, shipping companies and ship managers, operating ships under Belgian flag and ship’s crew, ensuring the statutory compliance of ships and crew during the COVID-19 crisis. BMI has ceased its physical operations, however it remains accessible and active, providing assistance and service to each concerned party. Understanding that each party maybe facing different sorts of challenges or problems, as the crisis progresses, BMI may be issuing general guidelines, measures and instructions, but will also take appropriate actions on a case by case basis. As the situation evolves from day to day, below you may find some general measures/actions that will or may be applied. Statutory certification of ships flying Belgian flag – The recognized organizations may be provided with an extended delegation, to carry out the statutory surveys/certification on behalf of BMI (during the crisis period) – BMI may consider on a case by case basis, the extension of mandatory statutory survey windows by issuance of a dispensation or short-term certificates – BMI may grant, postponement of bottom inspections or postponement of servicing of marine equipment, especially annual or five-year thorough examination and operational tests due to unavailability of authorized service provers – BMI may provide dispensations, attestations and provisional statutory certificates, based on exceptional situations. – BMI will provide and accept electronic copies of mandatory statutory certificates for the time Covid-19 measures are in place Crew certification – Certificates of competency (COC) may be renewed by a COC valid for up to 6 months, in case that required training (refreshers) could not be attended/completed, due to the measures imposed by the COVID-19 crisis. This includes in case the training could not be organized or when the COC expires due to quarantine measures or extended contract period. – On application of a certificate of recognition, BMI will issue automatically an application for recognition (CRA) valid for 3 months. – Seafarers may continue serving on board a Belgian flagged ship up to three months (extendible) after the expiry date of the medical fitness certificate, in case it is not possible to obtain a medical certificate. – BMI will provide and accept electronic copies of crew certificates for the time Covid-19 measures are in place Minimum safe manning – In case a crew member is required to depart a vessel due to the virus and the ship owner/operator is unable to immediately replace them, dispensations to Safe Manning Document may be considered on a case by case basis. Each request should be supported by risk assessment from the company. Seafarers Employment Agreement – Based on exceptional conditions, BMI may authorize the extension of the Seafarer Employment Agreement beyond the maximum duration, subject to the consent of the seafarer(s) and subject to the agreement between the Belgian Shipowner Association and the representative organizations of seafarers, through the terms and conditions established in the applicable collective bargain agreements. The exceptional conditions may include the impossibility for repatriation (quarantine, lack of transport, government restrictions for disembarkation…) For more detailed information in regards of these guidelines, measures and instructions, and the means of communication, BMI will shortly publish a circular. I duly hope that the COVID-19 crisis will be of short duration and that the impact on the shipping industry and its people will be limited. Yours sincerely, Bart Heylbroeck Advisor-general Belgian Maritime Inspectorate | DG Shipping | FPS Mobility and Transport | Posthoflei 3-5, 2600 Berchem, Belgium +32 2 229 00 50 | +32 475 81 84 93