In Colombia we had the chance to speak with A&A Multiprime who work as P&I Correspondents in Colombia and Central America providing P&I, H&M, FDD, emergency, legal and surveying services. We spoke to Santiago Moreno Andrade, Manager and founding Partner as Head of the Legal Practice since 2010 in A&A. The firm is known as one of the leading maritime law firms in Colombia. A&A enjoys the trust of many world leading shipowners, P&I Clubs, Charterers, Freight forwarders, traders and insurers.
1) What is the current situation and reality for the people of Colombia in terms of health and safety?
The 10-Year Public Health Plan 2012-2021 (PDSP) aims to attain equity in health, under this plan the 2015 Statutory Health Law No. 1751 places the responsibility for guaranteeing the right to health with the health system, not with the General Social Security Health System (SGSSS), and recognizes health as a basic social right, makes it the State’s obligation to pursue a societal approach in health promotion and disease prevention. As per reports from them WHO, “Colombia is proactive in the following areas of international action: (i) promoting access to affordable and equitably-priced quality medication; (ii) reshaping global drugs policies and giving a public health focus to national drugs policies;(iii) health promotion and public health management of chronic noncommunicable diseases; and(iv) capacity-building in the context of the International Health Regulations (IHR), by contributing its experience to development of the regional and global health agenda” Regarding the safety, Colombia suffered from internal armed conflict for over 50 years. On 24 November 2.016, Colombia’s President Santos signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement to end the internal armed conflict. Since this date Colombia has enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace. Despite improvements in security, crime rates remain high in Colombia. Illegal armed groups and other criminal groups are heavily involved in the drugs trade and serious crime including kidnapping (for ransom and political purposes), money laundering and running extortion. Despite the above internal security conflicts, Colombia has economic and political stability that has allowed it to maintain steady and stable growth (growth that has never fallen below the 2% threshold since 2.001, OCDE 2.017) and gradually create a business-friendly environment.
2) How has Covid-19 affected the already tense political situation in Colombia and how hard has the Colombian economy been hit by both?
During March President Iván Duque declared a state of emergency. Measures include the closure of schools, airports, restaurants and non essential stores, and people have been ordered to stay at home unless buying essential food or health products. Colombia has also closed its air and land borders and banned entry to non-citizens and non-residents. This state of emergency is an extraordinary scenario provided by the Constitution, that when declared, some fundamental rights can be temporarily restricted due to extreme crisis (in this case COVID 19). This implies not temporarily following some regular national laws or international conventions. During this period the President has issued an alarming number of decrees – the declaration of state of emergency allows him to issue decrees without congressional approval- Despite measures by President Iván Duque to contain and decelerate the spread of coronavirus, from the strictest lockdown to flexible reopening of certain economic sectors, public opinion has not swayed favorably towards the President, according to a recent Invamer poll, while Duque saw a sharp increase in his ratings in April, rising from 38% in March to 52%, only 41% now approve of the government’s management of the pandemic, some groups of the population have accused President Iván Duque of prioritising the needs of banks and big business over the general population. An estimated 5.4 million people lost their jobs during the lockdown, which has seen unemployment rise to 32.6 per cent of the workforce. With many Colombians already living in precarious conditions and lacking access to basic services such as healthcare and potable water, the impact of coronavirus is likely to economically devastating. Colombia has more than 68,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 4,300 deaths, while the number of daily infections continues to rise. However, the government is seeking to gradually relax lockdown measures in order to restart the economy. As reported by various articles, the Government confirmed that this year’s gross domestic product (GDP) will fall an approx. Of 5.5% , that is, the worst contraction in the country’s history. The 1999 recession, which is still considered the deepest, was 4.2%. The reasons for the expected recession for the total of 2020 have to do with the double external shock generated by the coronavirus pandemic and the sharp drop in oil prices, which will translate into lower rents for the State, as well as higher expenses.
3) how has Covid-19 impacted and continues to impact the shipping industry in Colombia, i.e. for Colombian shipowners and for Colombian ports and terminals?
After successfully managing various challenging cases over the last 4 months in which we obtained good insight and experience, please find below short advice on COVID19 and its impact on vessels calling to Colombia, the challenges we have faced and the solutions found.
COVID19 Regulations – Impact to Ships calling to Colombia:
As explained above due to COVID19 the Country was declared by the President in “State of Emergency” in March. Within the State of Emergency´s context the following measures were ordered which have an impact on ship´s operations in Colombia:
- A total national lockdown was declared restricting movement to nationals and foreigners.
- One exception to the lockdown order is the loading and unloading operations of ships. Force majeure situations and Humanitarian emergencies are also exempted.
- No foreigners are allowed into the country (including crew members, so they cannot go off board the ship), and in principle no injured or dead crew members are being allowed to disembark.
- Airports are closed for passenger flights but cargo flights are still operating.
- Courts and Harbour Master Offices stopped working and so the procedural terms have been suspended.
- Harbour Master hearings are currently taking place in a limited manner, and some of them are taking place via video calling.
- A health declaration of the crew members is mandatory to all ships, and must be submitted 3 hours before the arrival to any Colombian Port. This includes a record of the temperatures taken to the crew members. If some crew member appears to have fever, the Harbour Master may request to test for COVID19 to all the other crew members.
- If the Harbour Master believes that there is a suspicious case of COVID 19 on board a determined vessel, the HM may order the vessel to proceed to the anchorage/quarantine area and to quarantine for 14 days before berthing.
- At the present time there are no reports of problems with coal loading/supply in Colombia´s coal Terminals, and loading/unloading operations of general cargo has been working relatively normal.
Taking into account the above restrictions our work has faced new challenges. These include:
- In normal circumstances when a vessel is detained due to a casualty occurred, clearance is not granted until a hearing takes place and a Club LOU is accepted. Since at the present time no hearings are taking place, the scenario for a detained ship after a casualty was unknown.
Solution: In a recent collision case, we managed to persuade the HM to allow the ship to sail by only issuing a HM LOU without having to wait for the uncertain hearing. The HM accepted and we have been working this way in other casualties.
- Sometimes third parties like divers, doctors and some surveyors are finding difficulties in entering terminals and/or going on board ships.
Solution: Our surveyors have all discussed with the local Harbour Master and they all have special permissions to go to Terminals and assist ships. To other third parties going on board we have drafted permissions, establishing that they need to go on board due to a cargo vessel activity and/or an humanitarian activity and this have worked well.
- Recently a HM wanted to put a vessel in quarantine because a crew member had died apparently from a heart attack before arriving to the Colombian port.
Solution: We challenged the quarantine order since there were no indications whatsoever of COVID19 on board. Then the HM accepted to take a doctor on board to check for the crew´s temperatures, and then he authorized the ship to start loading operations. The Member and Club were very satisfied with the outcome.
- Recently a tragic killing of a crew member occurred while a vessel was berthed in a Colombian Terminal. Due to the COVID19 restrictions, the whole investigation/repatriation procedures suffered delays.
Solution: We kept pressing the authorities through our lawyers to expedite the procedures, and helped the authorities in various logistical matters such as finding our own translators for their official questionings etc.
4) As a renown and leading P&I correspondent, do you see a pattern or trend in claims which are triggered by the Covid-19 situation?
During these times, we noted an increase in the cases of illness and personal injury not necessary only due to Covid 19, we also noticed a trending in collision between terminals and vessels.
Santiago Moreno Andrade
Manager Partner – A&A Multiprime