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Blog: The impact of coronavirus on the operation of UK ports by Ince

UK ports facilitate 95% of the country’s trade and are vital to the global supply chain. While UK ports trying to operating as usual, extra procedures and restrictions are in place and the policies of each port across the UK varies.

Restrictions on vessels entering UK ports

At present there are no general restrictions on vessels entering UK ports. However, the Coronavirus Act 2020 gives the Secretary of State powers to suspend port operations. We anticipate that this power is likely to be used as a last resort, given that port workers have been designated by the government as essential “key workers”.

Government Guidelines for UK Ports

The Government has provided guidance for vessels and ports focusing on preventing the spread of the virus and ensuring the safety of staff and passengers. Some of the main points include:

  • Prior to boarding a vessel, crew and passengers should be asked if they have a new, continuous cough or a high temperature.
  • If someone does become unwell, they should be sent home or isolated in their cabin.
  • Maritime Declarations of Health are required to be submitted by all vessels arriving from foreign ports. 
  • The Master should notify the Port Health Authority about any suspected cases of coronavirus as soon as possible, who will then inform the local Health Protection Team.

The International Chamber of Shipping has also issued Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers.

Port-specific measures

The precise response to the Government guidelines varies across each port and some additional measures taken include:

  1.  Crew mobility – Some ports have introduced restrictions on crews disembarking vessels. For example, at the Port of Tilbury, crew are to remain on board at all times when in port, unless there is an emergency. Crew changes may also be affected owing to flight and travel restrictions imposed both in the UK and abroad.
  2. Passenger mobility –. There are no specific restrictions imposed by the UK Government on passengers embarking or disembarking from UK ports.  However, several ferry operators have reduced their services and in some cases have stopped allowing passengers, limiting their services to freight only.
  3. Reporting requirements – Ports continue to work closely with the local Port Health Authorities, further requirements may be instituted. For example, at the Port of Felixstowe, all vessels must inform the Port Health Authority of the countries that all persons on board have been to in the last 14 days.
  4. Personnel in Ports - Specific procedures to protect employees working in ports have been introduced. For example, there are special procedures for pilot embarkation at Milford Haven and Liverpool ports, which assist in minimising pilot contact with crew; and at Dragon LNG Terminal at Milford Haven, staff from shipping companies, surveyors, Class, P&I Clubs and SIRE inspectors (among others) are no longer permitted to transit the terminal or board vessels.

The coronavirus is likely to have a significant impact upon many businesses in the maritime sector, the UK Chamber of Shipping has called for a multi-million pound government support package to bolster the shipping industry.

While UK ports remain open, the additional measures in place are likely to lead to delays in UK ports.  Furthermore, the ability to deliver services within the ports is likely to become increasing difficult.  Ince is currently advising a wide range of clients on a variety matters following the coronavirus situations, including delay claims and declarations of force majeure; employment issues linked with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme; immigration matters following travel restrictions; and other regulatory and licencing matters.

Get in touch at if you need support or want to have a conversation about how COVID-19 might impact your business or you personally. 


Christian Dwyer

Partner, London

Peter McNamee

Managing Associate, London

Angela Song

Associate, London

A market leader for all aspects of shipping work, Ince has over 150 years’ experience, with a deep industry knowledge and focus on providing straightforward, practical legal advice tailored to clients’ specific needs.

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