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Canadian ports remain open amidst COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 is affecting all sectors of the economy and public life, including shipping and transportation as a whole. The Canadian government has reaffirmed the importance of the shipping industry as vital to the economy by keeping ports open and facilitating shipping activity. There are, however, precautions which must be taken by all ship owners and operators.

Risk reduction measures

On March 18, the federal government issued the Coronavirus Disease Risk Reduction Order COVID-19 in Canada (Prohibition on Entry into Canada), effectively closing the Canadian border. There are certain exceptions, including for seafarers. Transport Canada (TC) confirmed that Canadian ports will remain open for ships and cargo. Specifically:

  • Access to shore leave for Canadian and foreign seafarers is maintained without restriction.
  • Foreign-flagged vessels will not need to remain at sea for 14 days before docking at a Canadian port.
  • There is an automatic additional six-month renewal for seafarers' certificates of competency or medical certificates that expire as of September 2020.
  • Travellers are instructed to isolate themselves for 14 days after returning to Canada. This does not apply to mariners and transportation workers (ports, pilots, inspectors, cross-border workers, etc.) who perform an essential service for the movement of goods and trade.

However, TC has already established several health and safety measures:

  • Domestic and transborder ferries: capacity limit, passengers are advised to remain in their vehicles or on the open deck and respect social distancing.
  • Seafarers do not, as a rule, have to isolate themselves for 14 days upon entering Canada. In case of COVID-19 symptoms, however, they will be required to isolate themselves. If a seafarer gets sick while at berth, the local health authority, the port master’s office and the shipping agency should all be contacted. Protocols for communication between ships and shore regarding crew members showing symptoms were issued previously.
  • TC does not have specific quarantine vessel protocols in place. It considers this contingency can be properly managed on board.
  • TC does not yet have a directive regarding personal protection requirements and testing workers for COVID-19, but hygiene measures must be prioritized.
  • The Canada Border Services Agency, which is the Canadian customs authority responsible for border control, advises that they have additional processes in place at all ports for processing travellers and workers. A slowdown in the pace of operations throughout Canadian ports can be expected and, is already happening in Vancouver’s and Montréal’s ports.
  • The provincial governments of several provinces, including Québec and Ontario have order a temporary closure of non-essential industries. However, the transportation sector (rail, road, marine, air and logistics) as a whole is considered to be an essential service industry and will remain open.

Commercial navigation to resume

Commercial navigation resumes officially on March 24 at the Welland Canal section of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. However, due to outflows in the Montréal-Lake Ontario section that are higher than deemed safe for navigation in March, vessels will not be allowed to enter the Montréal/Lake Ontario section of the seaway system (at Cape Vincent downbound or CIP2 upbound) until the official opening on April 1.

Takeaway

The situation is developing rapidly, and updates will be issued throughout these turbulent times. BLG’s Shipping Group, with its national scope and multidisciplinary capacities is uniquely equipped to assist our clients navigate through these uncharted waters. We continue to monitor the situation and have put together task groups to more efficiently and expediently address a variety of COVID-19 related inquiries. On the shipping side, we are mindful of concerns affecting Clubs and Members/ Lines including issues and questions concerning delays to ships arising from lack of stevedores, port quarantine regulations, preventative measures, crew well-being and disembarkation and immigrations rules

For legal advice on shipping issues arising from COVID-19, please contact the authors below, who are ready to assist in navigating these uncertain times. BLG has also created a COVID-19 Resource Centre to assist businesses on a variety of topics, including labour and employment, contractual risks, public disclosure requirements, education and criminal law.

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