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When do ship masters need to report illnesses?

Because commercial vessels sail between numerous ports, they can serve as vectors of disease. A single vessel could bring disease from foreign ports to domestic shores, and lawmakers have long recognized this threat. That’s why there are laws for reporting illnesses.

Especially during an outbreak of global concern, these reporting laws aim to safeguard everyone working on the docks, in the ports and in the general populace who could potentially be exposed.

The definition of illness

One of the most important parts of reporting illnesses is understanding what illness looks like. Federal regulations demand that the masters of all ships headed for U.S. ports must notify the authorities of any deaths or illnesses. But what constitutes an illness? The law treats illnesses as hazardous conditions. So, surely, the ship masters don’t need to report every case of the sniffles or common cold.

As it turns out, the definition of a reportable illness is rather precise. As the U.S. Coast Guard recently reminded everyone, ships must report illnesses when their crew show a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), plus one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Rash
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Persistent cough
  • Reduced consciousness or confusion
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache and stiff neck

Ship masters must also report illnesses when those illnesses result in:

  • Fevers that run for more than 48 hours
  • Individuals who suffer three or more bouts of diarrhea within 24 hours
  • Vomiting paired by diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, muscle aches or fever

When anyone aboard a ship displays these symptoms, ship masters should report the illness to both the Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the Coast Guard notes, the failure to report these illnesses may expose the ship masters and their vessels to criminal and civil liability.

Proper reporting can protect crew as well as those on shore

It’s easy to understand the reporting requirements in the face of a global outbreak, but they serve a purpose even in calmer times. With proper notification, authorities can respond as needed. Such a response might involve quarantine, testing or simply data collection. And it can help protect those who live and work in the nearby area, as well as any crew who may join a vessel along its journey.

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