Captain’s Corner: Ebola Virus – Coast Guard Preparedness in the Maritime Domain

U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy TamargoThis Captain’s Corner is brought to you by LT Alexandra Miller, the Assistant Port State Control Branch Chief. As always, if you have recommendations for future topics, we would appreciate your input. See you in the port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

Ebola Virus: Coast Guard Preparedness in the Maritime Domain

By LT Alexandra Miller, the Assistant Port State Control Branch Chief

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the current Ebola outbreak does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public and it is taking precautions to help coordinate technical assistance and disease control activities at home and abroad. The Ebola virus started in the West Africa country of Guinea, and has spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and possibly Nigeria due to infected persons traveling between these countries. The Coast Guard is working with federal, state and local port partners to ensure vessels arriving from these West African countries are thoroughly screened prior to entering Jacksonville to help prevent further spread of the virus.

A key component of the vessel screening process is accomplished via the Sector’s Joint Maritime Advance Scheduling and Targeting Team (JMASTT) which is comprised of Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection personnel. The purpose of JMASTT is to have a joint, systematic, holistic risk assessment of vessels, crews, and cargo entering the Sector Jacksonville Captain of the Port zone. Foreign vessels are required to submit an Advance Notice of Arrival (ANOA) and report their last five ports of call. Part of JMASTT’s function is to review ANOAs, as well as, use reporting data bases to screen vessels arriving from high risk areas well in advance to their arrival so that risk can be assessed and appropriate mitigation actions implemented.

Additionally, U.S. regulations (42 CFR 71.21) require masters of vessels destined for a U.S. Port of entry to immediately report any death or illness among the vessel’s passengers or crew to include persons who have disembarked or have been removed from the ship due to illness or death. This requirement was recently updated on March 10, 2014 so that cargo ships, vessel agents and the Coast Guard can use the Maritime Conveyance Reporting System. Reports are reviewed and an initial assessment is conducted, at which time, the CDC may direct the Coast Guard to hold the vessel off shore at a designated anchorage until a thorough medical assessment can be conducted.

A recent example of the Coast Guard responding to a report of an unknown medical illness aboard a foreign vessel destined for a U.S. port occurred in Port Canaveral. On July 1, 2014, while off Port Canaveral, the master of the M/V J. S. COMET reported that 19 of his 21 crew were exhibiting signs of a severe illness. Sector Jacksonville withstanders immediately coordinated with the Coast Guard’s Seventh District flight surgeon and the CDC to conduct an initial assessment of the symptoms. Following the assessment, a contingent of properly equipped and trained members from Coast Guard Station Port Canaveral and Cape Canaveral Fire department boarded the vessel to conduct a hands-on medical assessment. The illness was determined to be a severe case of food poisoning. While this was not a communicable disease case, it serves as an example of federal, state, and local port partners identifying the key risk factors, establishing a safe course of action, and executing the rescue plan in a highly coordinated and efficient manner. Ultimately, 19 of the 21 crewmembers were medically evacuated via Coast Guard helicopter and received treatment at the Port Canaveral hospital.

For guidance reporting a death or illness aboard a vessel, please visit the CDC website.

In addition, please see Marine Safety Information Bulletin 12-14, “Ebola Virus Precautions”.