The international shipping community is being warned of the potential dangers from the unprecedented Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa.

Three global shipping organizations today issued guidance to their members on the risks posed to ships’ crews calling in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The International Chamber of Shipping, International Maritime Employers’ Council, and the ITF International Transport Workers’ Federation have urgently advised that all vessel Masters and crews calling on these countries take precautionary measures to protect themselves from the spread of the deadly disease.

Specifically, the ICS, IMEC, and ITF urges that on all such vessels: the Master should ensure that the crew are aware of the risks, how the virus can be spread and how to reduce the risk; the ISPS requirements on ensuring that unauthorized personnel do not board the vessel should be strictly enforced throughout the duration of the vessel being in port; the Master should give careful consideration to granting any shore leave whilst in impacted ports; the shipowner/operator should avoid making crew changes in the ports of an affected country; and after departure the crew should be aware of the symptoms and report any occurring symptoms immediately to the person in charge of medical care.

The advice is supplemented with information from the World Health Organization on the virus.

“Everyone is deeply concerned for those suffering from the Ebola epidemic and supportive of a coordinated world response to help them,” a spokesperson for the three organizations commented. “We particularly applaud all those medical staff who are risking their lives to help. In the meantime we want to make sure that those in the world shipping industry play our part in ensuring the safety of crews visiting the affected countries, and minimizing the risk of the virus spreading further.”

Last week, the World Health Organization launched a $100 million joint response plan to bring the current Ebola outbreak under control, although fears persist that the outbreak is moving faster than efforts to control it.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) is one of the world’s most virulent diseases, with a case fatality rate as high as 90%, according WHO. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. EVD is often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, and followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function. In some cases, there is both internal and external bleeding.

The outbreak in west Africa has been attributed to 1,603 people sickened and 887 deaths since March, according to the latest figures released by WHO, making it the worst Ebola outbreak in history. These figures include 4 suspected cases discovered in neighboring Nigeria, including 1 fatality.

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