Since January, ships arriving at the waterway have been required to report if they have visited countries with confirmed cases prior to their arrival. This builds off, and has been followed by, a series of additional actions taken at the waterway.
Vessel Transit Measures
The Panama Canal’s inspection and control personnel already work to ensure compliance with regulations on health and prevention of contagious diseases within its waters.
These inspections for contagious risk issues have been carried out for years and are required for all vessels that arrive in the Panama Canal waters.
The existing controls are:
• The vessel is required to report its conditions on board and does so through the Panama Maritime Single Window System (VUMPA, its acronym in Spanish). In the case of non-compliance and/or providing false information, the vessel is subject to penalties and/or restrictions.
• A Panama Canal admeasurer embarks and confirms the questions included in the Maritime Health Declaration through a form previously completed in the VUMPA.
• The admeasurer also questions once again the vessel’s captain or officer in charge in order to reconfirm that there are no sick people or crewmembers showing symptoms on board.
• If there are any confirmed or suspected cases on board and depending on the symptoms it is concluded that there is a relevant disease on board, the Maritime Health Unit of Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA, its acronym in Spanish) is called onboard. During this time, boarding and disembarking is prohibited for people and the yellow flag is flown, denoting that the ship is under quarantine.
• Next steps are determined following MINSA’s inspection.
In response to COVID-19, the following additional measures have also been taken at the Panama Canal:
• Vessels are required to report if and when crew changes occurred within 14 days of arrival at ports with COVID-19 cases to MINSA.
• Panama Canal admeasurers must contact vessels via radio before boarding to confirm all crewmembers onboard are healthy and to verify any recent crew changes.
• Panama Canal personnel are equipped with masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel.
• Constant communication is maintained between the Panama Canal and MINSA’s maritime health doctors.
• MINSA has sent a communication to all shipping companies, requiring that they report any person who has any illness-related symptoms, regardless of whether or not they are related to COVID-19.
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