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Seafarers, Novel Coronavirus and other infections

Seafarers, Novel Coronavirus and other infections
ATTY. DENNIS R. GORECHO February 04,2020

Seafarers were cautioned to follow health guidelines to prevent the spread of illnesses in view of the recent outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (NCoV)

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) released an advisory for seafarers to take precautionary measures to avoid getting infected with NCoV.

The ITF advised seafarers to have minimal interpersonal exchanges with people from ashore, avoiding contact with people who show symptoms of flu or high temperature and taking care of personal hygiene including more frequent handwashing.

When entering Chinese ports, seafarers are expected to remain on board their ships and disembark their vessels only where absolutely necessary and must wear masks.

They should also avoid unprotected contact with live animals and ensure all animal products are thoroughly cooked.

An outbreak of respiratory illness caused by NCoV first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has resulted in thousands of confirmed cases within and outside China.

Coronaviruses are viruses belonging to a large family that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. NCoV is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

It is a well-known fact that seafaring is one of the most hazardous occupations, in regards to personal health and safety concerns of seafarers.

Apart from accidents, seafarers are prone to certain serious diseases and health hazards due to the nature of onboard work, change in climatic conditions, type of cargo carried, working hours, materials being handled, epidemic and endemic diseases, and personal habits.

Because of their nature of work, seafarers are bound to visit many ports in different parts of the world and are thus exposed to various pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Infectious diseases are recognized as an occupational hazard in seafaring and are closely connected to the conditions of working and living onboard. These may either result from person-to-person transmission of infectious agents or through food, water or insects onboard ships or in ports, as well as from pre-existing conditions.

For a sick seafarer to be entitled to medical benefits under the POEA-Standard Employment Contract (SEC), he must have suffered work-related illness which is defined as any sickness resulting to disability or death as a result of one of the twenty-four (24) occupational diseases listed under Section 32-A of the said contract with the conditions set therein satisfied.

The list includes infectious diseases that a seafarer may suffer during the effectivity of his contract which is defined as a disease resulting from the presence and activity of pathogenic microbial agents in the body.

These agents include pathogenic viruses, pathogenic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, multicellular parasites, and aberrant proteins known as prions.

Most infections relentlessly find entry points to human populations through diverse mechanisms.

Respiratory diseases are commonly acquired by contact with aerosolized droplets, spread by sneezing, coughing, talking, kissing or even singing like bronchitis, Pulmonary Tuberculosis (PTB), pneumonia, and sinusitis.

Gastrointestinal diseases are often acquired by ingesting contaminated food and water like Norwalk Virus, Salmonella, and Leptospirosis.

Others may be due to contact with animals/ insects/ bacteria like Malaria, Conjunctivitis (Bacterial and Viral), Tetanus, and anthrax.

There are other infections resulting in complications necessitating repatriation that are not in the list, including the recent outbreak of NCoV.

One of the requirements for an illness to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the POEA contract.

Thus, it is imperative that his condition or symptoms must be documented while he is on board the vessel, such as headaches, fever, coughs, sore throat, chills, nausea, shivering and skin rashes, among others.

Otherwise, his claim for disability benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.