Updates in Maritime Labour and Immigration

Below is my update to the Canadian Maritime Law Association as Chair of the Maritime Labour and Immigration Committee: 


  • COVID-19. The global Covid-19 pandemic has a resulted in many legal issues pertaining to seafarers, the mobility of labour, and occupational health and safety. Some common issues include:

    • Transport Canada has confirmed that marine sector workers are essential and can travel into and within Canada (and are exempt from the requirement to quarantine for 14 days) provided they are asymptomatic. Marine sectors workers include:

      • Marine crew operating a vessel (including seafarers conducting a crew change)
      • Persons involved in the provision of ship and port services and supplies (including those providing administration and management support)
      • Equipment operators
      • Workers supporting the loading/offloading
      • Maintenance services
      • Security officers and those providing security support functions
      • Inspectors
      • Marine surveyors
      • Marine pilots
      • Vessel traffic management staff
      • Representatives of seafarers’ welfare and labour organizations
      • Search and rescue workers (also deemed essential workers as emergency responders)
      • Divers
      • Response and clean-up crew for a maritime spill
      • Other emergency response persons
      • Essential workers from other sectors who work on board a vessel

Until at least June 30, shore leave has been reduced to “essential” leave only and is limited to 4 hours in duration. “When granting shore leave, the Master of a vessel shall determine that such leave is essential (e.g. a personal, family or medical emergency) and not discretionary. Shore leave will not be granted for optional or discretionary purposes, such as tourism, recreation or entertainment.” No shore leave is permitted in Canada’s Arctic ports.

For more information see: Mobility of asymptomatic workers in the marine sector during COVID-19 - SSB No.: 09/2020.

    • Marine Medical Certificates and Marine Personnel Certificates have been automatically extended by Transport Canada. See Ship Safety Bulletin: Temporary Measures Regarding Marine Personnel Certificates, Discharge Books and Marine Counter Services - SSB No.: 13/2020.

    • Cruise ships, a major source international tourism, are not permitted to dock/navigate/berth/load and unload passengers at public ports and seaways etc. The Regulations Maintaining the Safety of Persons in Ports and the Seaway came into force on March 18. They have been implemented to restrict cruise ships that are capable of carrying 500 or more persons, including both passengers and crew members from accessing ports managed by port authorities, public ports, public port facilities, and the St. Lawrence Seaway until July 1, 2020.

    • All vessels that are certified to carry more than 12 passengers are prohibited from operating unless they provide essential services or are ferry vessels. “Essential Passenger Vessels” may continue to operate provided they make reasonable efforts to implement and put in place measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19. In addition, Essential Passenger Vessels should operate at 50% capacity. If doing so is not possible, they must demonstrate and confirm with Transport Canada that appropriate mitigation measures are in place, such as:

      • requesting that passengers stay in their vehicles for the duration of the transit, where practicable;
      • requiring that passengers use a face covering to cover their mouth/nose, for use at times during their journey when they cannot physically distance from other (e.g., in washrooms or other common areas);
      • encouraging passengers to wash their hands before boarding the vessel;
      • ensuring there are facilities to allow all passengers and crew to wash their hands often with soap under warm running water for at least 20 seconds;
      • ensuring there is alcohol-based hand sanitizer (or equivalent) available to all passengers and crew;
      • enforcing mandatory physical distancing for all passengers on board (e.g., by eliminating entertainment events and anything else that would impact a 2 metre between passenger distancing rule);
      • putting in place immediate reporting and mandatory isolation of anyone showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath, or fever equal to or greater than 38°C, or signs of fever, e.g. shivering, flushed skin, excessive sweating). In the case of overnight vessels, at least 20% of their capacity must be carried as empty berths to allow for isolation;
      • eliminating all prepared meals, buffets, restaurants and canteens;
      • eliminating the practice of “hot bunking”, where more than one crew member is assigned to a single bunk;
      • working with terminal operators to provide additional space for walk-on passengers waiting to embark/disembark; and
      • increasing medical capacity where practical (e.g., for those vessels that regularly carry medical staff, this would mean increasing the number of medical staff on board).

    • There have been reports of ports turning away ships with Covid-19 seafarers. The IMO’s Circular Letter No.4204/Add.4 (COVID-19) Guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers discourages this behavior providing that: “it is very important for port states to accept all ships (both cargo and passenger) for docking and to disembark suspected cases [of Covid 19]….Port states must ensure that any seafarers onboard ships in their territory who need immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities on shore”.

    • Marine sector employers have an obligation to ensure their workplaces are safe (Canada Labour Code, section 124). To that end, many have implemented policies to combat Covid-19 such as mandatory temperature screening. These policies need to be developed alongside an employer’s obligation to protect the privacy of its employees and to ensure that human rights legislation is followed.
·       Automated Ships. Transport Canada has accepted the registration of an automated vessel, a small 4.6m long research boat operating in Canada’s Atlantic coast.

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