Shipping, Ports and Travel - Update & guidelines on Covid-19

​Following President Ramaphosa's address to the nation on 15 March 2020, declaring the Covid-19 outbreak a national state of disaster, new regulations have been published in terms of the National Ports Act (effective 18 March 2020) which have a significant effect on shipping, ports, international trade and travel related matters. In this update we highlight key aspects of which our clients should be aware.

The regulations prohibit passenger or crew changes at the sea ports of Saldanha and Mossel Bay. The Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has also taken an executive decision to prohibit crew changes across all eight commercial sea ports in South Africa. The embarkation and disembarkation of passengers at all the sea ports has also been suspended, except under limited circumstances. No South African sea port has been closed in its entirety and commercial cargo operations will continue at all ports.

The Covid-19 outbreak and the various international measures taken to curb further spread has and will continue, for the moment, to have a marked impact on shipping and international trade.  At the most basic level, courier carriers have halted the collection of mail and packages both to and from South-East Asia and China until further notice.

Although there has been major disruption of voyages to and from China as a result of quarantines and port checks, operations at Shanghai have now returned to pre-Covid-19 levels. We are still likely to feel the impact of the drop in bulk and containerised goods in the short to medium-term; but operations at Chinese ports are now returning to normal.

In the meanwhile, consideration should be given to whether parties to contracts of affreightment and charterparties may rely on force majeure provisions to defend against claims arising from delay or non-delivery due to Covid-19 restrictions at various ports across the world. For insights on Covid-19 & performance on contracts, click here. Parties should discuss any potential insurance implications, especially in relation to FD&D, with their P&I Clubs and/or specialist brokers.

Ports and logistics

The TNPA, responsible for the management of the ports in South Africa, is taking serious measures to safeguard the South African ports against exposure to Covid-19, and to minimise the risk of the virus spreading. These measures are being constantly updated as the situation evolves, and more is expected shortly.

Some of the latest precautionary measures put in place at the South African ports are as follows:

  • all vessels masters must make accurate declarations of the health and wellbeing of their crew and must display the "Q" flag if all persons on board are healthy and Free Pratique has not been granted by Port Health. The "Q" flag is to remain raised on the main mast until the vessel has been cleared by Port Health and Free Pratique has been granted (also see point 5 related to "cruise liners and travel" section below);
  • pilots must make use of personal protective equipment when boarding any vessel to protect themselves (even if the master has declared all on board are healthy);
  • all waste removal from off port limit vessels and vessels at anchorages are to cease immediately (until otherwise advised);
  • galley waste will no longer be accepted at any ports and must be incinerated on board the vessel;
  • vessels from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, France, Germany, the US, Switzerland, UK, Norway or any other high and medium risk area may not dispose of any waste (including galley waste) in any South African port;
  • all off port limit activities involving foreign vessels and crews are suspended until further notice;
  • permission from Port Health and the harbour master's office is required prior to any interaction with vessels. This applies to bunker barges/ ships and small vessels;
  • limited interaction between bunker operator and vessels is permitted. No crew changes will be permitted for bunker barges or vessels taking fuel from foreign countries;
  • no crew changes will be permitted for any off-port limit calls including vessels at anchorage; and
  • vessel passenger and crew transfers will not be permitted in any of the South African ports.

New regulations have been published in terms of section 80(1)(g) of the National Ports Act which provide, in summary, as follows (with effect from 18 March 2020):

  • no passengers or crew changes are allowed at the sea ports of Saldanha and Mossel Bay (until further notice);
  • embarkation and disembarkation of passengers are suspended on all sea ports, unless the person disembarking is a returning South African citizen and a permanent resident; or the person embarking is a departing foreign national; or if the embarkation or disembarkation is for emergency medical evacuation purposes;
  • the loading and off-loading of cargo in and out of all sea ports is permitted;
  • new regulations provide for improved hygiene control and sterilisation facilities on ships, sea ports and port facilities;
  • a reporting, tracking, tracing and monitoring system is immediately put in place at the ports; and
  • mass gatherings of more than 100 people in sea ports are prohibited.

Cruise liners and travel

Cabinet has decided on extensive measures, (effective from 18 March 2020), to limit the spread of the virus, including imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the US, the UK and China.
In addition, travellers from medium risk countries, such as Portugal, Hong Kong and Singapore are required to undergo high intensity screening, including self-quarantine, for a minimum period of 14 days.

According to the latest notice issued by the Department of Health on 16 March 2020, the following key measures have been implemented, with effect from 18 March 2020:

  • all sea cruises undertaken by cruise liner vessels into and out of any sea port within South Africa must be terminated (until further notice);
  • the sign-on of crew from high-risk and medium -risk countries for commercial vessels will not be permitted;
  • the sign-off of crew from vessels arriving from high-risk and medium risk countries into any sea port in South Africa within the incubation period of Covid-19 is not permitted;
  • applications for off-port limits for services to be rendered on board vessels will be thoroughly assessed before permission is granted, and applications for off port limits for crew changes will not be permitted. These restrictions will not apply for MEDAVACS for medical emergencies provided that all the necessary port and clinical protocols are adhered to;
  • all vessels that have undertaken an international voyage must apply for Free Pratique to Port Health 24 to 48 hours prior to arriving in port. Port Health must be kept updated on any changes to the health status of the vessel whilst outside port or in the berth; and
  • medical waste that is generated on board the vessel must be contained in a sealed receptacle on board the vessel until disposal at an approved facility either within South Africa or out of the country.

For other Covid-19 related insights which may be of interest to clients, please click on the links below:


These materials are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While every effort is made to update the information regularly and to offer the most current, correct and accurate information, we accept no liability or responsibility whatsoever if any information is, for whatever reason, incorrect, inaccurate or dated. We accept no responsibility for any loss or damage, whether direct, indirect or consequential, which may arise from access to or reliance on the information contained herein.

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Webber Wentzel > News > Shipping, Ports and Travel - Update & guidelines on Covid-19
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