On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 13998 to promote COVID-19 safety in domestic and international travel. The EO confirms existing public health measures and implements new measures that will impact marine operators and activities within sea ports for both domestic and international travel.

Section 2 of the EO includes the “Mask Order” and requires mask wearing on certain modes of domestic transportation. The Mask Order went into effect on February 2. Masks are required to be worn in compliance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in or on many public transportation buildings and vehicles, including (but not limited to) airports, commercial aircraft, trains, public maritime vessels (including ferries), and intercity bus services.

Section 5(d) of the EO directed the commandant of the US Coast Guard (in consultation with other agencies) to submit a recommended plan of action to the president for the implementation of appropriate health measures at sea ports in response to COVID-19. This plan is intended to “implement CDC guidelines, consistent with applicable law, and take into account operational considerations [for the US maritime industry].” The commandant’s recommendations to the president are not currently available to the general public.

On January 29, 2021, the CDC issued an order that also impacts the maritime industry, directing individuals to wear masks while on conveyances and at transportation hubs. Under the CDC’s order, transportation hubs include ports, sea ports, and terminals. The CDC’s order went into effect on February 2, 2021.

On February 1, 2021, the Coast Guard issued COVID-19-related guidance, in Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) Number 02-21. MSIB 02-21 states that “failure to wear a mask creates an undue safety risk by increasing the risk of transmission of COVID-19. …” The MSIB provides guidance to conveyance operators for using best efforts to ensure that masks are worn by individuals when boarding or disembarking vessels and for the duration of travel. The Coast Guard also states the following in the MSIB: “Vessels that have not implemented the mask requirement may be issued a Captain of the Port (COTP) order directing the vessel’s movement and operations; repeated failure to impose the mask mandate could result in civil penalties and/or criminal action.”

Members of the maritime community should be mindful of the directives and guidance recommendations promulgated by the US government. The Coast Guard is tasked with monitoring and enforcing compliance with these measures within sea ports and on navigable waterways. Marine operators should review their Safety Management Systems and COVID-19 compliance measures to maintain consistency with the EO, the CDC’s order, and the MSIB, and to ensure that their crew and other marine personnel, wherever located, remain in compliance.