Liberia tightens anti-Ebola rules at seaports

The Liberian Maritime Authority updated Tuesday its advisory on required measures to keep the nation’s seaports free from the deadly Ebola virus.

Liberia occupies a unique place in global shipping, with almost 4,000 vessels globally flying the Liberian flag, the world’s second largest registry by tonnage. Global ship owners and operators register vessels in Liberia for tax breaks, and the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry is actually run out of the United States in Vienna, Virginia.

Most of the Liberian-flagged vessels don’t actually call Liberia. But many of the world’s largest shipping lines do as part of their West African service. Despite the Ebola outbreak, they continue calling these ports, seeing reported steep drops or 30 percent or more in cargo shipment to and from nations struggling to contain the virus.

To keep ship lines calling, Liberian authorities said Tuesday that they have put in place additional emergency measures at four ports: Monrovia, Greenville, Buchanan and Harper.

“An Emergency Response Team has been established to assist with implementation and enforcement,” said Tuesday’s advisory from the Liberian Maritime Authority and the National Port Authority. The advisory was sent to ship owners, operators and masters around the world.

Among the anti-Ebola measures now in place at the four Liberian ports include requirements for advance reporting of vessel crew illnesses, restrictions on shore passes and crew changes and mandatory temperature checks for persons entering all entry points at the four ports.

“Restrictions on visitation at the ports are also being observed and only those having important business engagements or official arrangements will be allowed access to the ports after he or she has gone through the routine preventive procedures that have been established,” the two maritime authorities said.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the African nations hit hardest by the spread of the Ebola virus. Liberia has suffered the most, with more than 2,700 deaths already reported and almost twice as many infected with the virus.

“The Liberian Registry is deeply saddened at this tragic loss of life, although its ships and crews, and its operations, are not directly affected by the virus in any way,” the registry said in a statement Monday in support of the International Maritime Organization’s warning against travel or trade bans.

Prior maritime advisories in Liberia had required stevedores and others working in Liberian ports to wash their hands and be screened for fever, and wear both long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Health workers who have had contact with anyone infected with the Ebola virus are required to have their own personal protective biohazard suits before setting foot on port property.

The port of Monrovia now has a designated temporary care center where persons suspected to being ill with the Ebola virus can be held until health officials can transport them to isolation areas.