Since the start of the global crisis caused by Covid-19, Argentina began to implement various measures of prophylaxis -applied fundamentally in spaces with a high concentration of people-, as well as increasingly tight restrictions on passenger traffic in air terminals, to finally enact the mandatory national quarantine.
But the national and provincial authorities focused on land and air, largely neglecting the maritime and river transport routes and a series of contingencies that began to occur in port cities in parallel with the worsening situation.
The first maritime actors to raise their voices to alert about the danger that means for health security, the arrival of hundreds of cargo ships without adequate face-to-face controls, were the pilots and pilots -responsible for advising foreign captains when they navigate in inland waters and when their ships dock at the dock. At its time and before Infobae, exposed the risk involved in daily boarding ships with crews from remote sites, including areas with high circulation of the virus. In recent days, the voices of the municipal authorities of Bahía Blanca, Quequén and Timbúes have risen in demand of protection for their communities and have come up with the possibility of de facto blocking entry to their respective ports.
After many marches and countermarches, when what happened in the port of Ushuaia with the cruise ship “Coral Princess” took public status, the authorities of the Ministry of Transport decided to install the issue on the agenda and, simultaneously with the quarantine of 400 passengers from the Juan Patricio ship due to the presence of a person with symptoms compatible with Covid-19, ended up shaping a generic protocol for transport by water.
Protocol and Crisis Committee
In just over 12 pages, the emergency protocol attempts to set standards of action for both national maritime and port personnel and those who deal with foreign ships that call at ports in the country. The norm establishes the obligation for all port terminals to have a contingency plan that contemplates the inclusion of a nearby hospital center for the care of possible infected persons, adequate existence of transportation means and preventive isolation sectors within port facilities, a requirement health certificates of own or eventual personnel and pathological waste management. The measure tries to stop some initiatives such as that of the Mayor of the town of Timbúes (Santa Fe) who wanted to prevent trucks from entering and leaving the port. Measure that would put soybean exports in check; today almost the only source of foreign currency in the country.
In response to one of the strongest claims in the sector, the regulation establishes severe restrictions on the land movement of members of the crews of foreign ships, who will not be able to descend from their ships except for strictly operational reasons. Likewise, except for force majeure, the release of foreign personnel in Argentine ports is prohibited.
In accordance with the provisions of the WHO, the traceability of the route of each ship prior to its entry into national waters, touched ports, eventual crew changes and a report on the daily control of the body temperature of each crew member is increased. There are other complementary measures that, while improving control over ships and crews, are still not considered 100 percent effective by professional seafarers, who continue to insist that It will be essential to compel all ships arriving in the country less than 14 days after their last contact with the mainland to remain at anchor outside the port until the quarantine is completed.
Regarding the pilots, the first professionals to board foreign ships, the protocol indicates that “They should wear a chinstrap, goggles, a camisole and gloves ”. They are prohibited from consuming food or drinks while on board. All the elements used for the pilot to board (cat ladders, ironing, etc.) must be disinfected and at all times the professional must maintain a distance of not less than two meters with the crew of the ship in question.
“We are told how we should be dressed and protected on board,” said the Captain Christian Alejandro Calacione, President of the Association of Pilots, before the query of Infobae about the protocol – but nothing is said about which body is responsible for providing us with these elements. It is public knowledge that gel alcohol and chinstraps are scarce, where are we supposed to acquire them? What characteristics must a camisole have to be really useful for prevention? As we are delegates of public authority, should these elements not be provided to us according to an official standard? “
Both for Calacione and for other practitioners consulted, the provision by which they are prohibited from eating food seems to ignore that a pilotage on the Paraná-Paraguay waterway does not take less than 24 hours, and that time can be doubled at the slightest contingency. Again, the most rational and executable solution is that of the implementation of a waiting system outside the ports, so that it only comes into contact with foreign ships after 14 days of isolation.
Calacione also clarified that at this time work is carried out side by side between the personnel of pilots and the business chamber of the sector.
In the midst of Infobae with a pilot from the Paraná river, Police authorities stopped the car that was taking him to his workplace and tried to prevent his arrival at the port of La Plata. The Buenosairean agents explained to him that his activity did not appear in the list of exceptions that the presidential DNU enabled. Indeed, Although the legal instrument considers the tasks related to foreign trade as permitted, it is very poor when it comes to listing the professions directly involved in the export or import of merchandise, making it impossible for a police authority to discern whether or not to authorize a posting.
The lag of a dozen ships without destination, scattered across different seas around the world, worries immigration and health authorities in much of the planet. For these hours the Celebrity Eclipse ship with more than 60 Argentines on board was prevented from taking port in Valparaíso. Only the landing of the country’s nationals was authorized, and the rest are already traveling to the United States. The anguish on board is great since it is not known if Donald Trump will authorize the landing, in addition to the fact that many compatriots do not have a visa.
On the other hand, the number of passenger ships contaminated by Covid-19 amounts to 10, according to information from the International Maritime Organization.
Buenos Aires also rejected in the last hours the landing of foreigners and is currently located on the outskirts of the metropolitan port the “Scenic Eclipse” cruise with hundreds of Australian tourists who embarked in Ushuaia for a tour of Antarctica. On their return, in the Fuegian city they were denied the descent, and identical criteria have been maintained by the Buenos Aires health authorities. “This situation has a particular seasoning; Although the tourists are foreigners, in theory the ship made a cabotage trip, since Argentina declares full sovereignty over the portion of the Antarctic continent that it occupies. In fact, they left a port located in the province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and Falkland Islands and it is not well understood why they are not allowed to return to their country of origin since we have everything planned for their transfer by air, ”says one of the ship’s operators.