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How should crew deal with outbreaks at sea?

Though it originated in China, the coronavirus outbreak has now become a global problem.

Quarantines in China, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, Australia and elsewhere have dramatically impacted the shipping industry. Ports have refused to let tanker crews transfer off their ships. And a handful of passengers have spread the virus to hundreds of others aboard several cruise ships.

What can seamen like you do when you are exposed to viruses like COVID-19 while doing your duties?

Prevention tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer several actions you and your crew mates can take to limit the spread of disease:

  • Limit your interactions with sick people
  • Limit the amount sick people interact with others
  • Keep your distance from sick people - 6 feet or more
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands regularly, soaping them thoroughly
  • Ask sick people to wear masks to cover their nose and mouth, or consider wearing a mask yourself

These actions may help limit the transmission of a virus like COVID-19. That is important because it is not always possible to quarantine people.

Passengers still need to eat meals. Crew still need to perform their duties. And the air filters aboard many ships are unable to stop viruses like the coronavirus. On the Diamond Princess, for example, 621 passengers contracted the disease despite a ship-wide quarantine.

Three paths to recovery

Despite your best efforts, you still might become sick. If you do become ill while serving aboard a vessel, you may be able to pursue one of three different paths to recovery:

· If your employer's negligence led to your infection, such as through an ill-considered quarantine, you may have a case through the Jones Act

· In some cases - although not likely in the case of a coronavirus outbreak - you may be able to show that your ship's unseaworthiness caused your disease or illness

· Under maritime common law, your employer may be obligated to pay some of the living and medical expenses tied to your illness

An attorney with experience in maritime law can help you understand which, if any, of these options might apply.

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