Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has significant impacts on the shipping industry and on seafarers themselves, and IMO is working tirelessly at all levels to find solutions.

Travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world have created significant hurdles to crew changes and repatriation of seafarers, which has led to a growing humanitarian crisis as well as significant concerns for the safety of seafarers and shipping. IMO has intervened promptly by urging its Member States to designate seafarers as key workers, so they can travel between the ships that constitute their workplace, and their countries of residence.

Click to download the protocols, which set out general measures and procedures designed to ensure that ship crew changes can take place safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. ( Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14   Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Click here for a comprehensive FAQ about crew changes and repatriation of seafarers.

Seafarers have been collateral victims of the crisis, as travel restrictions have left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. IMO has established a Seafarer Crisis Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) to help them out of a variety of critical situations.

Click here to find out more about the work achieved by the Organization to support seafarers around the globe.

IMO has published a number of press briefings on key issues related to the pandemic, including crew changes, repatriation of seafarers and meetings postponement: click here for the full list of press briefings.

Day of the Seafarer and other events

  • High-level event on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (24 September) on COVID-19 and Maritime Crew Changes: A humanitarian, safety, and economic crisis- read more here.
  • The annual Day of the Seafarer was celebrated on 25 June 2020. The theme of the campaign reflects the role of seafarers and the need for them to be declared “key workers” in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Webinar: “Seafarers are Key Workers: Essential to Shipping, Essential to the World” A webinar on the theme “Seafarers are key workers: Essential to shipping, essential to the world” was held. Panelists highglighted the ongoing need for repatriation of crew and made a plea to “Get our hero seafarers home”.  They welcomed the United Kingdom Government’s initiative in calling a global summit on the issue, but warned that real action from governments everywhere was needed to solve the crisis and get seafarers home and replaced.  A recording of the full webinar can be viewed here.

IMO Secretary-General statements

UN Secretary-General statements on seafarers and COVID

  • UN Secretary-General’s message on World Maritime Day (24 September 2020)
  • Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General on the repatriation of seafarers (12 June 2020)

Advice for IMO Member States, seafarers and shipping

IMO has issued the following circular letters:

(Please note: Circular Letters can also be downloaded in official languages from IMODOCS (requires regimystration))

  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.34 (19 November 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID 19) – WHO e-learning courses on “Promoting public health measures in response to COVID-19 on cargo ships and fishing vessels” and “Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases and outbreaks on board ships” 
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.33  (5 November 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Joint Statement IMO-UNWTO to support the safe resumption of cruise ship operations following the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.32 (25 September 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – ICAO Harmonized guidance on facilitating passenger flights, including repatriation flights, using public health corridors during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.31   (17 September 2020)  – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Joint Statement on the contribution of international trade and supply chains to a sustainable socio-economic recovery in COVID-19 times
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.30  (11 September 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Joint Statement calling on all Governments to immediately recognize seafarers as key workers, and to take swift and effective action to eliminate obstacles to crew changes, so as to address the humanitarian crisis faced by the shipping sector, ensure maritime safety and facilitate economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic


  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.29 (4 September 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Communication from the Secretary-General regarding the crew change crisis
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.28 (26 August 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – WHO guidance to promote public health measures on cargo ships and fishing vessels
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.27  (26 August 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Protocols to mitigate the risks of cases on board ships
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.26 (3 August 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance on the gradual and safe resumption of operations of cruise ships in the European Union in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.25 (24 July 2020)  –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Outcome of surveys by ICS and ITF on health protection measures on board ships in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.24 (13 July 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Outcome of the International Maritime Virtual Summit on Crew Changes organized by the United Kingdom
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.23 (1 July 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommendations for port and coastal States on the prompt disembarkation of seafarers for medical care ashore during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.22/Rev.1(25 June 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Singapore Crew Change Guidebook
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.21(8 June 2020)(8 June 2020) – Joint statement IMO-UNCTAD – Call for collaborative action in support of keeping ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.20(5 June 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Accelerating digitalization of maritime trade and logistics – A call to action
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.19/Rev.2 (22 July 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance for flag States regarding surveys and renewals of certificates during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.18 (26 May 2020) –  Joint Statement IMO-ICAO-ILO on designation of seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel, aviation personnel, air cargo supply chain personnel and service provider personnel at airports and ports as key workers, and on facilitation of crew changes in ports and airports in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.17 (21 May 2020)  –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Preparing for post COVID-19 operations: considerations and practicalities for port community systems, single window and other electronic exchange platforms
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.16 (6 May 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – COVID-19 related guidelines for ensuring a safe shipboard interface between ship and shore-based personnel
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.15 (6 May 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Personal protective equipment
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14/Rev.1(5 October 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.13Circular Letter No.4204/Add.13  (5 May 2020) –  Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on facilitating the movement of offshore energy sector personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.12/Rev.1  (5 May 2020) –Coronavirus (COVID 19) – Declaration by Port Authorities Roundtable (PAR) members in view of the global COVID-19 situation
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.11(24 April 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID 19) – EC Guidelines on protection of health, repatriation and travel arrangements for seafarers, passengers and other persons on board ships
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.9 (22 April 2020) – Joint Statement IMO-WHO-ILO on medical certificates of seafarers, ship sanitation certificates and medical care of seafarers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.8(16 April 2020) – Joint Statement IMO-WCO on the integrity of the global supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.7 (14 April 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Video meeting with port State control (PSC) regimes (includes joint statement and statements and/or relevant temporary guidance issued by the United States, the Acuerdo de Viña del Mar and the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Paris and Tokyo MOUs
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.7(3 April 2020) – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance concerning unforeseen delays in the delivery of ships
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.6 (27 March 2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Preliminary list of recommendations for Governments and relevant national authorities on the facilitation of maritime trade during the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.5/Rev.1 (2 April 2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance relating to the certification of seafarers and fishing vessel personnel
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.4/Rev.2 (9 October 2020) contains ICS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.3 (2 March 2020) – Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.2 (21 February 2020) contains the Joint Statement IMO-WHO on the Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak and encourages Member States and international organizations to disseminate it as widely as possible. A vailable in the six official languages of the United Nations system.


  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 (19 February 2020) provides advice on Implementation and enforcement of relevant IMO instruments
  • Circular Letter No.4203.Add.1 (12 February 2020) provides information and guidance on the precautions to be taken to minimize risks to delegates
  • Circular Letter No.4204 (31 January 2020) providing information and guidance, based on recommendations developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), on the precautions to be taken to minimize risks to seafarers, passengers and others on board ships

Communications received from Member States and Associate Members

IMO has received, and circulated,  communications from Member States and Associate Members Communications

Click here to view full list of communications received by country and subject.

Download PDF  – Table overview: List of Circular Letters with COVID-19 related notifications received from Member States (updated weekly).

National Focal Points on Crew Change and Repatriation of Seafarers

Click for the latest list:

MSC.7/Circ.1/Rev  National Focal Points on Crew Change and Repatriation of Seafarers

Read more – further links

The following links also provide advice and information to seafarers and shipping (this list is not intended to a be complete reflection of all available information) – IMO is not responsible for the information in these websites:

IMO Meetings / IMO Headquarters updates

IMO meetings schedule for remote sessions

Click for the meetings schedule.

  • Council 32nd Extraordinary Session (C ES 32), 4 May to 3rd August – Summary here.
  • Council 31st Extraordinary Session (C ES 31), 18 March to 15 April 2020 – the meeting was held by correspondence. Summary here.

Updates on meetings/IMO Headquarters

  • Circular Letter No.4220/Add.3 (2 November 2020) Update on the status of the International Maritime Organization Headquarters building and telecommuting arrangements due to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4213/Add.6  (6 August 2020) Reconstruction of IMO 2020 and 2021 meeting schedules
  • Circular Letter No.4211 (10 July 2020) Twenty-seventh meeting of the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group on Harmonization of Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (virtual sessions held between 12 to 16 October 2020, then by correspondence)
  • Circular Letter No.4160/Add.1 (23 June 2020) Forty-third meeting of the Scientific Group under the London Convention and the fourteenth meeting of the Scientific Group under the London Protocol (taking place by correspondence from 6 July to18 September 2020)
  • Circular Letter No.4297 (29 May 2020) Informal preliminary discussion session (virtual meeting) on short-term measures for reduction of GHG emissions from ships
  • Circular Letter No.4213/Add.4   (30 April 2020) Postponement of the Council, the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group on Maritime Radiocommunication Matters and the Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments owing to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4265  (21 April 2020) Sixteenth meeting of the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group on Maritime Radiocommunication Matters (deadlines for submission of documents remain in place)
  • Circular Letter No.4213/Add.3 (1 April 2020) Postponement of the Sub-Committee on Human Element Training and Watchkeeping and the Technical Cooperation Committee owing to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4213/Add.2  (17 March 2020) Postponement of the forty-fourth session of the Facilitation Committee, the second meeting of the IMO Expert Group on Data Harmonization, the Port symposium “A Holistic approach to standards for port operational data in maritime supply chains” and the 102nd session of the Maritime Safety Committee due to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4213/Add.1  (12 March 2020) Postponement of the thirty-third meeting of the Editorial & Technical Group (IMSBC), the seventh meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships and the seventy-fifth session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee due to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4213 (6 March 2020) Postponement of the joint session of the LC/LP Scientific Groups and the 107th session of the Legal Committee due to the COVID-19 outbreak

World Health Organization advice

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. The virus did not match any other known virus. This raised concern because when a virus is new, we do not know how it affects people. One week later, on 7 January, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus. The new virus is a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as SARS and MERS. This new virus has been named COVID-19.

With the information currently available on novel coronavirus, WHO advises that measures to limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease should be implemented, without unnecessary restrictions on international traffic.

WHO technical guidance on detection and management of ill travellers suspected of COVID-19 infection, including at ports, can be downloaded here.

WHO Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships can be downloaded here

Because this is a coronavirus, which usually causes respiratory illness, WHO has advice to people on how to protect themselves and those around them from getting the disease. WHO provides Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) travel advice here: