FILE PHOTO: a Port State Control inspection in Nine Mile Anchorage on the lower Mississippi River. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

U.S. Coast Guard to Enforce Mask Requirement on Commercial Vessels

Mike Schuler
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February 8, 2021

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) reminding all people traveling on commercial vessels to wear a mask in accordance with a recent White House executive order and CDC requirements.

On January 21, President Biden issued Executive Order (13998), titled Promoting COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel, requiring masks to be worn on all “public maritime vessels, including ferries” in order to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Meanwhile, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order issued January 29, titled Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks while on Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs, requires all persons traveling on all commercial vessels to wear a mask.

The CDC order also requires that operators must use “best efforts” to ensure that any person, whether passengers or crew, wear a mask when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel. This applies to operators of aircraft, trains, road vehicles, vessels, or other means of transport, including military, according to the CDC order.

“This Order must be followed by all passengers on public conveyances (e.g., airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares) traveling into, within, or out of the United States as well as conveyance operators (e.g., crew, drivers, conductors, and other workers involved in the operation of conveyances) and operators of transportation hubs ( e.g., airports, bus or ferry terminals, train or subway stations, seaports, ports of entry) or any other area that provides transportation in the United States,” the CDC order states.

Title 42 of the United States Code section 268 charges the Coast Guard with enforcing CDC quarantine orders. The MSIB tells owners, operators, and crew of vessels that failure to implement the mask wearing order could constitute a hazardous condition that may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.

“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,” the MSIB states.

Law firm Blank Rome LLP said that before CDC’s Jan. 29 order, the enforcement of mask policies was largely left to individual transportation hubs. However, with the CDC order now in place, not wearing a mask is now a violation of federal law in certain cases, which could help make enforcement easier.

“The U.S. Coast Guard now endorses the CDC order and cooperates with TSA to compel adherence to the same, subjecting those found non-compliant to civil or criminal penalties. Stakeholders are advised to review the CDC order and the MSIB to confirm they are taking the necessary measures to ensure full compliance,” Blank Rome stated.

Read More: Marine Safety Information Bulletin 02-21 “COVID-19 Safety Requirements in the Maritime Transportation System”

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