Categories: a-port-information, BusinessPublished On: 01.04.20201143 words5.7 min read


Port Responsiveness in the fight against
the “invisible” threat: COVID-19


In the current unprecedented times of a global threat posed by a coronavirus pandemic that has triggered dire consequences for whole societies and nations, the maritime industry is playing an essential role in the response. Around 80% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping. This includes currently most-needed items such as vital medical supplies and equipment, as well as food, energy, raw materials and manufactured goods and components. These are essential for addressing people’s basic needs and for preserving many jobs in manufacturing, maintaining international trade and, in the end, sustaining the global economy.

In view of this, it is important to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade to continue. This requires that the world’s ports remain open for ship calls and that ship crews’ changeover is allowed. Further, in these challenging times, some additional measures should be undertaken to protect the staff working in port communities and to ensure continuity of ports’ operations.


Based on several documents received from ports that are part of the UNCTAD TrainForTrade Network, the following measures have been implemented/observed and could serve as generic guidelines:

  • Constantly promote and enforce preventive hygiene measures (handwashing)
  • Limit physical interaction between onboard and onshore staff. Ship crew should communicate with quayside staff by radio or telephone
  • Encourage/restrict ship crew to stay onboard. Establish a clear protocol if disembarkation is necessary (check body temperature, involve immigration department, track movements and potential human contacts)
  • Respect physical distancing rules – stay 2 metres apart
  • Increase the use of digital documentation to limit human contact to the minimum
  • Provide adequate and sufficient protective equipment to the staff (face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, glasses)
  • Augment the sanitation of surfaces that come in contact with hands
  • Establish a point of control in the perimeter of the port area to monitor temperature and related symptoms (automated temperature screening) and equip it with anti-bacterial solutions and sanitizers
  • Establish a waste disposal policy for “suspicious” cases
  • Fumigate and disinfect all passenger terminals/areas
  • Disinfect and monitor cargo
  • Have a passenger information system for easy contact tracing and an isolated holding and testing area for COVID-19 symptomatic port users
  • Institute a protocol for disembarking passengers/crew requiring immediate medical care in coordination with the national health authority (1)
  • Identify decontamination areas in the port buildings

(1) Under the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention of 2006, flag States must ensure that all seafarers on ships flying their flag are covered by adequate measures for the protection of their health and that they have access to prompt and adequate medical care whilst working onboard. The Convention also requires port States to ensure that seafarers on board ships in their territory who are in need of immediate medical care are given access to medical facilities onshore.


It is crucial to keep the country’s borders open for all forms of freight transport, in particular ports considered to be essential national assets. Governments need to ensure that health measures are implemented in ways that minimize unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade; in particular, by respecting the requirements of “free pratique” for ships under the International Health Regulations (IHR). The principles of avoiding unnecessary restrictions or delay in port entry for ships, persons and property on board are also embodied in articles I and V and section 6 of the annex of the Convention of the Facilitation of Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention). This is underscored by the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Crisis Protocol

The following section presents an example of a crisis protocol that can be used as a guide on actions that should be implemented in relation to strictly defined crisis levels . . . . .

. . . . read the full report on the UNCTAD website here

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Globalization, including a phenomenal expansion of trade, has helped lift millions out of poverty. But not nearly enough people have benefited. And tremendous challenges remain.

We support developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively. And we help equip them to deal with the potential drawbacks of greater economic integration. To do this, we provide analysis, facilitate consensus-building, and offer technical assistance. This helps them to use trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.

Working at the national, regional, and global level, our efforts help countries to:

  • Comprehend options to address macro-level development challenges
  • Achieve beneficial integration into the international trading system
  • Diversify economies to make them less dependent on commodities
  • Limit their exposure to financial volatility and debt
  • Attract investment and make it more development friendly
  • Increase access to digital technologies
  • Promote entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Help local firms move up value chains
  • Speed up the flow of goods across borders
  • Protect consumers from abuse
  • Curb regulations that stifle competition
  • Adapt to climate change and use natural resources more effectively

Together with other UN departments and agencies, we measure progress by the Sustainable Development Goals, as set out in Agenda 2030.

We also support implementation of Financing for Development, as mandated by the global community in the 2015 Addis Ababa Agenda, together with four other major institutional stakeholders: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations Development Programme.

While we work mainly with governments, to effectively deal with the magnitude and complexity of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, we believe that partnerships and closer cooperation with the private sector and civil society are essential.

Ultimately, we are serving the citizens of the 195 countries that make up our organization. Our goal is prosperity for all.

UNCTAD in the UN system

UNCTAD is a permanent intergovernmental body established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964. Our headquarters are located in Geneva, Switzerland, and we have offices in New York and Addis Ababa.

UNCTAD is part of the UN Secretariat. We report to the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council but have our own membership, leadership, and budget. We are also part of the United Nations Development Group.

Take a look at the UN system chart (PDF) to see our place in the UN family.


About TFT:

In order to increase trade flows and foster economic development, the programme creates port networks bringing together public, private and international entities. The aim is to share knowledge and expertise between port operators and strengthen talent management and human resources development in port communities.

The UNCTAD TrainForTrade Port Management Programme supports port communities in developing countries in delivering more efficient and competitive port management in the future. In order to increase trade flows and foster economic development, the programme creates port networks bringing together public, private and international entities. The aim is to share knowledge and expertise between port operators and strengthen talent management and human resources development in port communities.