From cruise ship passengers to cargo vessel crew, many have found themselves stranded at sea or quarantined in ports since the coronavirus pandemic first took hold. The guidelines issued by the European Commission today support these individuals, providing recommendations on health, repatriation and travel arrangements. They also announce the establishment of a network of designated ports for crew changes.
How many people (crews and passengers) have been stranded on cruise ships because of coronavirus?
All commercial cruises have been suspended until further notice. However, we have been informed by the European Maritime Safety Agency that between 8 and 11 April, 11 cruise ships will approach Europe, carrying around 8 000 people. More EU citizens, passengers and crew, are still onboard ships elsewhere, and are waiting to return home.
What sorts of goods are cargo ships carrying?
Cargo ships carry everything, from bulk raw materials, gas and oil to containers full of electronics and active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to produce medicines. Maritime transport plays an essential role in the international trade of EU goods, and 75% of goods traded by the EU are transported by sea. To keep our economy running in these difficult times, it is of utmost importance to keep ships sailing and ports operational.
What are designated ports for crew changes? Why should Member States agree to create a network of such ports?
The Guidelines recommend that Member States and the Commission lead a coordinated effort to designate several ports in the Union for fast-track crew changes. These specifically ‘designated ports should geographically cover the Union and should be connected to operational airports and rail stations. Dedicated or regular flight and rail operations could ensure the transport connections for in- and outgoing crew, allowing seafarers to be repatriated quickly.
‘Designated ports’ should have nearby accommodation where seafarers can wait for the ship they should board, or for their flight, train or ship home. This accommodation should have adequate facilities to allow them self-isolate for 14 days before embarking and after disembarking if the Member State in question requires this, and if testing is not available.
It is in the Member States’ interests to create a network of such ports, and we ask Member States to come forward with nominations.
How will crew members and passengers travel on to their home countries if hardly any flights/international trains are running?
The guidelines suggest that Member States require ship operators to communicate certain details about a ship’s occupants, including intended destination, before the ship reaches the port. This will give the national authorities more time to contact consulates and embassies in order to support the repatriation for the individuals involved.
Whose responsibility is it to take care of non-EU crew members disembarking within the EU?
Responsibility for repatriating seafarers lies first with the ship-owner; failing action to this effect by the ship-owner, the ship’s flag State is responsible. If the seafarer is in good health, and there are no COVID-19 cases on board his or her ship, the ship-owner is obliged under the Maritime Labour Convention to repatriate the seafarers and to cover the cost of the repatriation. If the seafarer has COVID-19 symptoms and is unable to travel back home, the ship-owner must cover the expenses for medical care, food and accommodation until the seafarer recovers.
Where should cruise ships dock?
For ships flagged in an EU Member State, the flag State should allow passengers and crew to disembark in one of its ports and help to make the necessary arrangements for repatriation and access to medical care as appropriate.
If it is not possible or practical for the flag State to accommodate a ship, it should help the cruise ship operators to make appropriate arrangements with other EU Member States or elsewhere. The arrangements should minimise the time the vessel stays at sea while providing good medical infrastructure and transport connections for repatriations.
If the ship is flying a non-EU flag, Member States should accommodate it for humanitarian reasons, but it is recommended that they ask the cruise ship operator to make appropriate financial and logistical arrangements (e.g. required personal protective equipment, facilities for quarantine, hiring of buses, charter flights) before docking. If such arrangements are not found, Member States should in any case consider disembarking any passengers and crew safely and swiftly, before facilitating their transit home.
Should crews/passengers be automatically quarantined when disembarking?
Quarantine requirements are a matter for every individual EU Member State.
Throughout the course of docking, if anyone on board presents symptoms compatible with COVID-19 (including sudden onset of at least one of the following: cough, fever, or shortness of breath), this should be reported to the competent authority immediately.
Those suspected of having the virus should either disembark and be isolated and treated ashore, or be isolated on board (according to procedures described in the EU HEALTHY GATEWAYS advice) until asymptomatic, unless their condition worsens and requires hospitalisation ashore. Decisions on individual cases will be taken by the port state’s competent authority, based on a risk assessment and the situation within the community (containment or mitigation phase).
All individuals leaving the ship should be asked to complete a Passenger/Crew Locator Form before leaving the ship, and the captain should keep this document on board for at least one month. The competent authority should give approval before any individual disembarks, based on an assessment of that person’s health.
Is it not safer for people to stay on a ship until the pandemic passes, rather than disembark?
In some cases, crew and/or passengers may indeed be better off staying on board the ship, provided that the appropriate sanitary measures are in place. This needs to be assessed by the ship’s master and the port state competent authorities on a case-by-case basis. For cruise ships, for example, it should be assessed if the air used by the air-conditioning system can be taken exclusively from the outside (with less chance of virus spread), or whether it is being re-circulated inside the ship, which could in certain cases lead to the infection of passengers healthy to date.
Do any Member States or ports have robust procedures in place, which other countries and ports could learn from?
In order to ensure the docking of the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam in Florida on 2 April, the cruise operator took responsibility for organising repatriations / medical treatment while the flag State (the Netherlands) assisted diplomatically. An agreement between the cruise line and local and federal US authorities foresaw that all passengers first received health screenings and then healthy passengers were allowed to fly home.
What about fishermen?
The fishing industry employs a considerable number of international crew members, both EU and non-EU citizens; an estimated 8% of crew members are from outside EU/EEA countries. Travel to and from the fishing vessels and border crossings should be facilitated for these essential workers. The guidelines therefore recall the importance of applying the recently adopted Guidelines for border management measures in this sector, to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services. Member States should facilitate the transit of EU and third-country fishermen who are EU residents so that they may return home.
70% of the EU adult population fully vaccinated
Today, the EU has reached a crucial milestone with 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. In total, over 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. Seven weeks ago already, the Commission’s delivery target was met, ahead of time: to provide Member States, by the end of July, with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19. But the pandemic is not over. We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated. And we need to help the rest of the world vaccinate, too. Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its Member States that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in coordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants.”
Global cooperation and solidarity
The rapid, full vaccination of all targeted populations – in Europe and globally – is key to controlling the impact of the pandemic. The EU has been leading the multilateral response. The EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as much as it has delivered for its citizens. Team Europe has contributed close to €3 billion for the COVAX Facility to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries. Currently, over 200 million doses have been delivered by COVAX to 138 countries.
In addition, Team Europe aims to share at least 200 million more doses of vaccines secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements to low and middle-income countries until the end of 2021, in particular through COVAX, as part of the EU sharing efforts.
Preparing for new variants
Given the threat of new variants, it is important to continue ensuring the availability of sufficient vaccines, including adapted vaccines, also in the coming years. That is why the Commission signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer on 20 May, which foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023. For the same purpose, the Commission has also exercised the option of 150 million doses of the second Moderna contract. Member States have the possibility to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, contributing to a global and fair access to vaccines across the world. Other contracts may follow. This is the EU’s common insurance policy against any future waves of COVID-19.
A safe and effective vaccine is our best chance to beat coronavirus and return to our normal lives. The European Commission has been working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines that can be shared with all.
The European Commission has secured up to 4.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and negotiations are underway for additional doses. The Commission is also working with industry to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity.
At the same time, the Commission has started work to tackle new variants, aiming to rapidly develop and produce effective vaccines against these variants on a large scale. The HERA Incubator helps in responding to this threat.
EU’s defence measures against unfair trade practices remained effective in 2020
The system for protecting EU businesses from dumped and subsidised imports continued to function well in 2020 thanks to the EU’s robust and innovative ways of using trade defence instruments (TDI), despite the practical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of the European Commission’s new trade strategy, whereby the EU takes a more assertive stance in defending its interests against unfair trade practices.
Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU needs effective tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices. This is a key pillar of our new strategy for an open, sustainable and assertive trade policy. We have continued to use our trade defence instruments effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, improved their monitoring and enforcement, and tackled new ways of giving subsidies by third countries. We will not tolerate the misuse of trade defence instruments by our trading partners and we will continue to support our exporters caught up in such cases. It is crucial that our companies and their workers can continue to rely on robust trade defence instruments that protect them against unfair trade practices.”
At the end of 2020, the EU had 150 trade defence measures in force, in line with previous years’ activity levels with an increase in the number of cases lodged towards the end of 2020. In addition, for the first time, the Commission addressed a new type of subsidy given by third countries in the form of cross-border financial support that was a serious challenge for EU companies.
The following are the main trade-defence highlights of 2020:
Continued high level of EU trade defence activity
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had to swiftly introduce temporary changes to its work practices, especially concerning on-the-spot verification visits. This allowed the Commission to continue applying the instruments at the highest standards without a drop in the levels of activity. At the end of 2020, the 150 trade defence measures that the EU had in place – 10 more than at the end of 2019 – included 128 anti-dumping, 19 anti-subsidy and 3 safeguard measures.
In 2020, the Commission launched:
- 15 investigations, compared to 16 in 2019, and imposed 17 provisional and definitive measures, compared to 15 in 2019;
- 28 reviews, compared to 23 the previous year.
The highest number of EU trade defence measures concerns imports from:
- China (99 measures);
- Russia (9 measures);
- India (7 measures);
- The United States (6 measures).
Tackling new types of subsidies
In 2020, the Commission strengthened its action against subsidies granted by third countries. In particular, the Commission imposed countervailing duties on cross-border financial support given by China to Chinese-owned companies manufacturing glass fibre fabrics and continuous filament glass fibre products based in Egypt for export to the EU.
This means that, for the first time, the Commission addressed cross-border subsidies given by a country to enterprises located in another country for exports to the EU.
Support to, and defence of, EU exporters facing trade defence investigations in export markets
The importance of monitoring trade defence action taken by third countries was again evident in 2020. The number of trade defence measures in force by third countries affecting EU exporters reached its highest level since the Commission started this monitoring activity, with 178 measures in place. In addition, the number of cases initiated also increased in 2020, with 43 compared to 37 the previous year.
The report outlines the Commission’s activities to ensure that WTO rules are correctly applied and procedural errors and legal inconsistencies are addressed in order to avoid any misuse of trade defence instruments by third countries. The Commission’s interventions yielded success in some cases where measures were not ultimately imposed, affecting important EU export products such as ceramic tiles and fertilisers.
Strong focus on monitoring and enforcement
There was a renewed focus on the monitoring of measures in place in 2020, including changes to surveillance practices to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the trade defence instruments. This also involved customs authorities, EU industry, and in certain instances, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Continuing its efforts to address instances where exporters tried to avoid measures, the Commission initiated three anti-circumvention investigations in 2020 and completed five such investigations during the year, where measures were extended in four cases to also address imports from third countries where transhipment was found to have taken place.
The report also recalls the findings of the European Court of Auditors from July 2020, which confirmed the successful enforcement of the EU’s trade defence instruments by the Commission. The report made a number of recommendations to further strengthen the Commission’s response to the challenges posed by unfairly traded imports that the Commission has started to implement in 2020, such as improving monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of measures.
Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022: improving long-term sustainability of stocks
The Commission today adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2022 for the Baltic Sea. Based on this proposal, EU countries will determine how much fish can be caught in the sea basin, for what concerns the most important commercial species.
The Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga, whilst maintaining the current levels for sprat, plaice and by-catches of eastern cod. The Commission proposes to decrease fishing opportunities for the remaining stocks covered by the proposal, in order to improve the sustainability of those stocks and to help other stocks such as cod and herring recovering.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The poor environmental status of the Baltic Sea is heavily affecting our local fishermen and women, who rely on healthy fish stocks for their livelihoods. This is why the Commission is doing its utmost to restore those stocks, and today’s proposal is a reflection of that ambition. However, the state of the Baltic Sea is not only related to fishing, so everyone must do their part to build the long-term sustainability of this precious sea basin.”
Over the past decade, EU’s fishermen and women, industry and public authorities have made major efforts to rebuild fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. Where complete scientific advice was available, fishing opportunities had already been set in line with the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for seven out of eight stocks, covering 95% of fish landings in volume. However, in 2019 scientists discovered that the situation was worse than previously estimated. Decisive action is still necessary to restore all stocks and ensure that they grow to or remain at sustainable levels.
The proposed total allowable catches (TACs) are based on the best available peer-reviewed scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and follow the Baltic multiannual management plan adopted in 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council. As regards western Baltic cod, western Baltic herring and salmon, the Commission will update its proposal once the relevant scientific advice will be available (expected by mid-September).
For eastern Baltic cod, the Commission proposes to maintain the TAC level and all the accompanying measures from the 2021 fishing opportunities. Despite the measures taken since 2019, when scientists first alarmed about the very poor status of the stock, the situation has not yet improved.
For western Baltic cod the scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is postponed to mid-September, and the Commission will update its proposal accordingly. However, since it seems unlikely that the stock has developed favourably, the Commission proposes already now to maintain the spawning closure. It also proposes to maintain all accompanying measures in the eastern part of the catch area, given the predominance of eastern Baltic cod in that area.
The stock size of western Baltic herring remains below safe biological limits and scientists advise for the fourth year in a row to stop catching western herring. The Commission, therefore, proposes to close the directed fishery and set a TAC limited to unavoidable by-catches, whose level the Commission will propose at a later stage, as ICES is currently not in a position to provide sufficient scientific data.
For central Baltic herring, the Commission proposes a reduction of 54% in line with the ICES advice, because the stock size has dropped very close to the limit below which the stock is not sustainable. In line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to decrease the TAC level for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia by 5%, while the situation for Riga herring allows for an increase of the TAC by 21%.
While the ICES advice would allow for an increase, the Commission remains cautious, mainly to protect cod – which is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries as currently conducted. It therefore proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged.
Similarly to plaice, the ICES advice for sprat would allow for an increase. The Commission however advises prudence and proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged. This is because sprat and herring are caught in mixed fisheries and the TAC for central Baltic herring has to be reduced again significantly. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for cod, which is not in a good condition.
ICES has postponed its scientific advice for salmon to mid-September. The Commission will update its proposal accordingly. A special advice from ICES of April 2020 already provides information about the issues affecting these stocks, pointing to the fact that the MSY objective cannot be achieved for all salmon river stocks if the commercial and recreational mixed-stock sea fisheries are continued at current levels.
The Council will examine the Commission’s proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on 11-12 October.
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