Outbreak of COVID-19 on an industrial ship

Int Marit Health. 2021;72(2):87-92. doi: 10.5603/IMH.2021.0016.


Background: People on ships are at high risk for outbreaks of infectious diseases including coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). A rapid and well-coordinated response is important to curb transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). We studied an outbreak on an industrial ship to improve outbreak control for ships and coordination between participating harbour partners.

Materials and methods: Public Health Service (PHS) Rotterdam-Rijnmond performed an epidemiological investigation during the outbreak of COVID-19 among 77 seafarers on a ship in their port. The captain was interviewed about ship details and his experiences during the outbreak. The seafarers were asked to fill in questionnaires about symptoms suspicious of COVID-19 and date of symptom onset. Information about stakeholders involved in outbreak control was registered.

Results: The captain first contacted PHS about probable cases on March 31st 2020 via a physician ashore. One crewmember was hospitalised on April 8th and another died unexpectedly aboard on April 10th. Questionnaires distributed mid-April to the 75 remaining seafarers showed that 38 of 60 responders (63%) had had suspicious symptoms between February 15th and April 13th. None of them were tested but a total of 8 other crewmembers tested positive for COVID-19 after leaving the ship, including the hospitalised crewmember and the one who died aboard. On May 5th, the last case left isolation and the quarantine ended. Many different stakeholders were involved in the outbreak response and responsibilities were not always fully clear beforehand, causing coordination issues.

Conclusions: Testing crew with COVID-19 symptoms underpins control measures and clarifies communication between stakeholders. Building a network beforehand to develop outbreak guidelines tailored to ships and local circumstances is essential to control future outbreaks on ships.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; harbour; outbreak; public health service; ship.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • COVID-19 Testing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Naval Medicine / methods
  • Netherlands
  • Quarantine*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ships*
  • Travel