Returning to UK from Red Zone Country

This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) article sets out general guidance for UK-based members, mostly relying on the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) and Seafarers' Employment Agreement (SEA). Note that there will be differences between flag states' laws. Covid-19 response is a fast-changing situation and RMT does not guarantee the veracity of the information. Members are urged to seek specialist legal advice wherever possible.
For specific advice based on your own individual circumstances and SEA please contact your Regional Organiser.
Seafarers travelling for work are advised to check Covid restrictions prior to departure, with several countries imposing additional requirements for passengers.
Some countries have closed borders, and any country may further restrict travel or bring in new rules with little warning. RMT members can check foreign travel advice for countries of work or transit.
1. I am due to join my ship but am worried about travelling, can I refuse?
Refusal to join a ship would be considered misconduct or gross misconduct under many SEAs even with such a public health concern. Check your SEA and any applicable Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), to see if there are any relevant clauses. Employers should communicate with employees to explain the mitigating actions they have taken and what seafarers should do to protect themselves whilst travelling. Companies should comply with the Covid-19 Crew change protocols which have been drawn up by industry bodies and endorsed by the IMO.
Employers demanding travel to an unsafe destination could be in contravention of national government travel advice, risk corporate travel insurance cover becoming invalid and fall foul of employee health and safety responsibilities under the MLC. Ensure your employer is aware of your concerns.
It may be that, in extreme cases, refusing to join a ship in a hotspot would be reasonable on health and safety grounds. However, a bad employer may still wish to treat this as a disciplinary issue.
Affected members should contact RMT immediately, which can then put their concerns to their employer.
2. Can I refuse to join my ship if, as part of the rotation, it is going into a destination where infection rates are high?
Under the MLC ship owners have a duty to protect the health and safety of seafarers.
However, it may be harder to justify refusing to join a ship that will visit an area of high infection as part of its rotation, as the risk of contracting the virus could be considered minimal if you are not going ashore and there is no contact with the local population. Companies should have conducted detailed risk assessments and communicated these with their employees.
3. Will I be required to enter quarantine when I off-sign from a ship in a non- UK port?
ITF/ICS guidance recommends that governments exempt seafarers from any mandatory quarantine periods that may be enforced for other travellers. However, many countries do require quarantine.
Shipping companies should supply seafarers with detailed information on what to expect during the repatriation process including any restrictions that they will be expected to comply with.
Members should contact their Regional Organiser immediately if they have any concerns.
4. Do I need to undertake mandatory self-isolation on arrival in the UK?
A mandatory 10-day self-isolation period will be enforced for most arrivals in the UK. In addition, travellers will be required to provide a negative PCR test taken within the 72 hours prior to departure and, to take coronavirus tests on day two and day eight after arrival in the UK. 
However, seafarers, masters and pilots who have been repatriated to, or travelled to, England, Wales or Northern Ireland in the course of their work, are exempt from the self-isolation requirements and the requirement to provide a negative PCR test.
From 19 March 2021 Seafarers are ALSO exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if they have travelled from a country on the red list to England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Seafarers will not require a negative test for Covid-19 after their arrival.
Different rules apply in Scotland – Please see below.
Anyone who arrived in the UK from a red list country before 04:00 hrs Friday 19 March, must remain in their quarantine hotel for the remainder of the 10-day quarantine period and take a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight.
It should be noted that seafarers, masters and pilots may be required to complete the required passenger locator form (see Q7).
Seafarers may be asked to produce one of the following:
  • a Seafarers Identification Document (SID)
  • their joining papers
  • a seafarer's discharge book (Continuous Certificate of Discharge)
  • a basic training certificate
  • a deceleration from the registered owners of the vessel that they are a crew member
The exemption from self-isolation requirements applies when a seafarer arrives in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to join a ship, leaves their ship to be repatriated or returns having been discharged from their ship overseas.
Seafarers are still expected to comply with any restrictions that are in place in the country that they are residing including the requirement to self-isolate if they have coronavirus symptoms.
The Scottish Government introduced an exemption from the requirement to enter managed quarantine for seafarers effective from 04:00 on 20 March. Although it is stated that this exemption applies to those repatriated in accordance with the MLC, the Scottish Government is using a very strict interpretation of what is and is not repatriation.
You are not required to enter managed quarantine if you fly directly into England and then travel to Scotland.
5. Will I be required to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine when I arrive in the UK?
From 19 March seafarers returning to England, Wales or Northern Ireland from 'red list countries' are exempt from travel restrictions including hotel quarantine. A Department for Transport border measures update confirmed the exemption will take effect from 0400 hrs on Friday 19 March 2021.
Seafarers who have been in red list countries in the 10 days preceding their arrival in England, Wales or Northern Ireland will be able to enter the UK to join their ships, take shore leave and/or return home without the need to spend 10 days in managed quarantine. Seafarers will not require a negative test for Covid-19 after their arrival.
The Scottish Government introduced an exemption from the requirement to enter managed quarantine for seafarers effective from 04:00 on 20 March. Although it is stated that this exemption applies to those repatriated in accordance with the MLC, the Scottish Government is using a very strict interpretation of what is and is not repatriation.
You are not required to enter managed quarantine if you fly directly into England and then travel to Scotland.
Anyone who arrived in the UK from a red list country before 04:00 hrs Friday 19 March, must remain in their quarantine hotel for the remainder of the 10-day quarantine period and take a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight.
More information on the mandatory quarantine rules is available here.
6. Do I need to provide a negative test before travelling to join my ship
Governments around the world are implementing restrictions on travel similar to those being imposed in the UK. The situation is changing very rapidly so you are advised to check the most up to date requirements for the country you are travelling to. Your employer should provide you with all the information you need and also pay for any test that is required. It should be noted that some countries require a test other than PCR for arrival for example a LAMP or antigen test.
You should ensure that you allow sufficient time to obtain the test and the results prior to travelling. 
7. Do I need to fill in a Travel Declaration Form before exiting the UK border?
From 5 March 2021, international travellers from England are required to fill in a Travel Declaration Form to declare their reason for travel.
The rules state that while the stay at home restrictions are in place, residents are only allowed to travel abroad for a legally permitted reason. Travelling for work is permitted.
Some travellers are exempt from completing the declaration form because of the job they do. See the full list of exemptions here.
Seafarers ARE exempt from the new rules.
Offshore oil and gas workers who travel from the UK are NOT exempt and will need to complete a declaration form for overseas travel if departing from England.
Offshore oil and gas workers may be asked to show this declaration form at the port of departure and are encouraged to carry evidence to support the reason for travel, such as:
  • Seafarers Identification Document (SID)
  • Joining papers
  • Seafarer's discharge book (Continuous Certificate of Discharge)
  • Basic training certificate
  • Employment declaration from the registered owners of the vessel
Entering a port of departure to travel internationally without a completed form is a criminal offence, which carries a fine. RMT is seeking clarification from the Department for Transport on what the fine could be.
There is no requirement to complete the form for travel within the UK, to Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
Different rules apply for international travel from Northern IrelandScotland and Wales.
8. Do I need to fill in a 'Public Health Passenger Locator Form' when returning to the UK? 
If you have visited or have passed through a country on the UK’s travel ban list in the past 10 days then please refer to Q5.
As of 8 June 2020, returning persons (including some seafarers) have been required to complete a 'Public Health Passenger Locator Form' giving details of their journey to the UK Border Force, how they can be contacted and where they will be staying whilst in the UK. The form also enquires whether they are exempted from quarantining and requires them to state why this is the case. The form can only be completed online.
However, seafarers only need to complete the Public Health Passenger Locator Form before travelling to the UK if travelling in a part of the vessel that is accessible to any passenger for any part of the journey, unless passengers remain in their vehicles in that area (for example on a roll-on, roll-off ferry).
You do not need to complete the Public Health passenger locator form if you travel in a part of the vessel that is not accessible to passengers or you travel on a vessel which does not carry passengers (e.g. fishing boats).
You will not need to self-isolate.
It is permitted to complete the form on behalf of another person, but an explanation must be given why this is being done, using a maximum of 500 characters. The form cannot be submitted until 48 hours before the person's arrival time in the UK.
Failure to complete the form could result in a £100 fine. 
In the online government guidance Coronavirus (COVID-19): travellers exempt from border rules in the UK, seafarers are listed and defined under the section: 
Seamen and masters as defined in section 313(1) Merchant Shipping Act 1995, maritime pilots as defined in para 22(1) of schedule 3A of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, and inspectors and surveyors of ships appointed under section 256 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995
9. My employer is refusing to pay me after mandatory self-isolation, is this legal?
If an employer requires you to self-isolate you should still be paid in accordance with your SEA.
During such a period, an employer should not order you to take unpaid contractual or statutory leave for which you would normally be paid. Any contravention of this can be challenged with the assistance of the RMT.
In 2020 the government introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for employees who had been furloughed by their employer. It has been extended until 30 April 2021.
The cost of any accommodation required for self isolation or any testing procedures required either by the company or government legislation should be met by the employer.
Under the scheme employers can pay furloughed workers a claim 80% of the payments back from the government (up to a maximum of £2,500 per month). However, this will only apply to seafarers whose employer is registered for PAYE with HMRC and has a UK bank account. The terms of the scheme change regularly. For further information click here.
See also FAQ 17 below.
10. My employer is refusing off-signing and repatriation at the end of my contract due to Covid-19 fears at port, is this legal?
Under the MLC you have a right to be repatriated once your tour of duty is finished. 
An employer can only refuse that if, under your SEA, there is a clause that permits it to extend the tour of duty.
The ILO's 'Information note on maritime labour issues and coronavirus (COVID-19)' emphasises that shipowner's must repatriate seafarers, unless that is impossible due to coronavirus related circumstances beyond their control.
The UK has re-issued MIN 632 (M), for UK ships, and takes account of the ILO note and other international protocols. It describes the very limited circumstances in which seafarers can be offered an extension to their SEA when they cannot be repatriated due to Covid-19 related barriers. Seafarers must be given the right to take advice: they cannot be forced to accept and extension, it must be agreed with the informed consent of the seafarer.
Seafarers must not lose the right to be repatriated or take annual leave, although these may be deferred until the obstructive circumstances no longer exist. Seafarers must always be paid their contractual wages during any period of an extension of their SEA.
The UK government has stated that it is committed to upholding its obligations under the international conventions regarding the transit and transfer of seafarers and their right to access shore leave.
11. What if I get sick or contract the Covid-19 virus while onboard, what are my rights?
You have a duty to protect yourself while at sea and a duty to protect others who may be affected by your activities.
You should follow the general advice published by the World Health Organization (WHO), The International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) and The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). There may also be a company policy (check their website) and perhaps flag state advice.
You should also seek advice from the onboard medical officer and inform your line manager/master.
The IMO has also circulated guidelines for the cruise industry for the safe resumption of the cruise sailings. The Covid-19 EU Guidance for Cruise Ship Operations has been drawn up by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and includes recommendations on what should happen in outbreaks onboard as part of the ship management plan, and the measures to be taken to protect communities in ports. These should all be communicated to crew as well as passengers before arrival in each port.
12. I am feeling unwell onboard and due to dock in a port that is refusing shore access, what can I do?
MLC states that when you are in port you have a right to visit a medical doctor 'where practicable'. In an MLC-ratifying state you also have the right to shore leave and to access shore-based welfare facilities.
Flag states do have the right to refuse shore leave if they have reason to believe that a vessel may be carrying an infectious disease and, any local restrictions in force limiting non-essential travel would apply equally to seafarers. In these instances, it would not be unreasonable to restrict shore leave.
The ship owner is also obliged to provide you with free onboard medical care.
If you have any concern regarding these matters contact RMT for advice.
13. I have been hospitalised abroad with Covid-19, is my employer liable for medical bills and sick pay?
The ship owner has a duty to pay for your medical care and treatment, therapeutic appliances, and board and lodging until you have recovered. You will also be entitled to full pay until you are repatriated. After repatriation you will be entitled to pay (in whole or in part – check flag state law) until at least 16 weeks from the date you became sick.
If the ship owner refuses unreasonably to allow for medical checks or medical help, that would be a serious breach of flag state MLC laws, rendering the ship owner liable to prosecution.
While in a foreign port ships will also be governed by the port state's MLC laws. So, an MLC onshore complaint may also be lodged with the local maritime authority.
Action from your union can help enforce these mechanisms.
14. I am home on leave and ready to rejoin my ship, however the ship owner is refusing to send me back, what can I do?
Firstly, contact RMT, as such cases are likely to be very fact-sensitive, and require industrial and legal intervention. RMT will try to get you back to work, or at least ensure that you are paid if it is the ship owner that is preventing your return.
Some SEAs allow the ship owner to suspend work for 'force majeure' or unforeseen circumstances without pay, depending on which national laws the SEA is governed by.
However, if your SEA is subject to UK law, and there is no such clause, then you should be entitled to continued payment.
15. My medical certificate is due to be renewed. What do I do?
The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) on April 6, 2020, updated the extensions available for expired, or about to expire, medical certificates during the Covid-19 pandemic from three months to six months.
The changes apply to ENG 1 holders on UK flagged vessels including seafarers and fishers and adds a provision around non-UK medical certificates when used on UK Ships.
16. Am I permitted to travel to my vessel for on-signing during the lockdown?
As recognised key workers, UK based seafarers are eligible to travel to and from a vessel. However, you should ensure that you carry at all times your professional documentation, ie seafarers' identity document, Certificate of Competency, discharge book or discharge papers.
In the UK, travel for work is considered a legitimate reason for travel if that work cannot be carried out from home.
RMT is aware that some companies are providing letters to their employees identifying that the bearer is a seafarer required to join a vessel.
With regards to international travel, the IMO and ILO have urged all governments to designate seafarers as key workers and exempt them from any travel restrictions in order to facilitate crew changes. Seafarers travelling internationally to join their vessels should be provided with detailed information by their companies.
Members experiencing difficulties should contact their Regional Organiser.
17. Am I eligible for the UK government's furloughed workers payment scheme?
The UK job retention scheme that provides support to workers temporarily laid off (furloughed workers) applies to UK business and employees on PAYE, (click here for the government's advice). The scheme has been extended till April 30, 2021.
Many of our UK resident members work on offshore contracts and may not be eligible for the scheme.
Also, many of our members work on voyage contracts with non-UK based employers who do not operate PAYE.
UK/EU resident members who are in this position should seek independent financial advice as it is possible that having made claims in the past for Seafarers Earnings Deduction (SED) HMRC will have your tax records and this may assist HMRC in identifying seafarers who may be eligible for the self-employed scheme both in terms of your past earnings and National Insurance contributions. There are several specialised seafarer's tax advisory services available.
18. I am self-employed and pay Class 2 UK National Insurance contributions. Am I eligible for government benefits?
Many of our members are not able to make Class 1 contributions and opt instead for Class 2 (self-employed). Either way they should be able to claim benefits if they are unemployed or on reduced income.
Members who have not maintained their national insurance contributions may face difficulties accessing some of the available benefits. There is advice on national insurance for seafarers available here.
RMT supports the Seafarers Assistance and Information Line (SAIL) and members can seek advice from them on their benefit entitlements. Any employment related queries should be referred to your RMT Regional Organiser.
19. I have been laid off by my company. What are the options for alternative employment?
RMT with Nautilus and the Maritime Charities Group (MCG) have created a Redundancy and Retraining Fund that can provide eligible seafarers who have lost their employment as a result of the crisis with a grant of up to £500 for relevant training to assist in securing new employment in the maritime sector. Full details are available here
Members have reported renewed interest particularly in the Oil and Gas sector for UK seafarers.
RMT has made representations to the government, the department for transport and the shipping industry calling for them to put in place mechanisms to ensure that shortages of seafarers caused by labour supply countries restricting travel can be met by UK seafarers. 
The Maritime Charities Group has set up a fund administered by the Marine Society to assist seafarers who have been made unemployed with the costs of retraining. Eligible seafarers may be eligible for a bursary of up to £500 to be used for retraining leading to reemployment in the maritime industry. Courses can include MCA-approved and STCW refresher qualifications, maritime-related professional diplomas or ICS qualifications. Members wishing to make use of this fund should contact the Marine Society
In addition to ensuring that UK seafarers are designated as key workers and that they are able to revalidate their Certificates of Competency despite the disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic, RMT, in conjunction with Nautilus and UKCoS has developed a jobs matching service for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
20. The UK has promised that ports will stay open to allow seafarers to transit and repatriate home. Does that also include shore leave?
The UK has reiterated that it will continue to uphold its commitments under the various international conventions and this includes the right to shore leave.
Seafarers legal entitlement to shore leave is enshrined in the MLC 2006 and the FAL Convention. There are specific circumstances where the Master or the company may deny shore leave on safety grounds however this is only permitted following assessment of the risk at a specific port. Blanket shore leave bans imposed by companies are not permitted. Members whose companies have imposed such bans (or imposed measures that act as defacto bans) or, who have been denied shore leave in a UK port or terminal should contact their industrial organiser.
Whilst seafarers have a legal right to shore leave, they should comply with any restrictions that are in place locally. This position was confirmed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in their legal opinion of Nov/Dec 2020 which stated that countries must:
'Allow seafarers to enjoy their right to shore leave in accordance with Regulation 2.4, paragraph 2,[of the MLC] subject to the strict respect of any public health measures applicable to the local population.'

21. Do I have to wear a face mask at work onboard?
Face covering has been mandatory on UK public transport including ferries in England from June 15, 2020.
The ruling applies to all front-line ferry workers and those that come into contact with passengers. It covers all public transport networks including ferries, busses, rail and underground transport.
The condition will be monitored by transport police and individuals found to be flouting the rules could be fined.
The Union is campaigning for ferry operators to provide front line seagoing employees with the necessary Personal Protective Equipment to enable them to comply with this new rule.
There will be some exceptions to the rule for very young children, for people with disabilities and for people with breathing difficulties.
The rule applies to England. The devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are providing their own evolving guidance. People in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland should follow the specific rules in those parts of the UK.
Please consult the local restrictions page to see if any additional restrictions are in place in your area
22. I am a seafarer returning abroad from holiday or coming to the UK on holiday from a quarantine-list country. As a UK-recognised keyworker, do I still have to self-isolate and/or provide a negative Covid test?
Any exemptions for seafarers to quarantine and/or provide a negative test result is applicable only to those travelling for the purposes of joining or leaving a vessel and not for reasons of general travel or tourism.
If you are entering the UK for purposes other than joining or leaving a vessel then you will have to abide by the rules in force for the general population.
23. Will I be eligible for priority vaccination as a seafarer?
The UK Government has announced it’s priority list for phase one of its vaccination programme.
This initial phase prioritises recipients based on clinical need according to their age and any underlying health conditions. If you are a member of any of the priority groups, then you will be contacted by your GP to arrange your vaccine.
Once phase one is complete, it is likely that consideration will be given to prioritising certain key workers during phase two. 
24. Can I apply for a work visa to enter or transit China?
From 15 March foreign nationals and their family members visiting mainland China for work and production in various fields, people traveling for emergency humanitarian needs, and holders of valid APEC business travel cards may apply for a visa if they have been inoculated with Covid-19 vaccines produced in China only.
notice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in Hong Kong states that individuals must have either received two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the mandated gap in between or have received a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application. All applicants must have a vaccination certificate. 
Proof of a negative Covid-19 test and a Health and Travel Record Declaration Form for visa application are no longer required.
Read the full notice here.
25. Can I take part in training provided by my employer while on furlough?
Furloughed employee can do training in certain circumstances. In fact, the guidance says that furloughed employees should be encouraged to undertake training.
Training will not count as work where the purpose of the training is to improve an employee’s effectiveness or the performance of the employer’s business.
Training could jeopardise the grant if it provides services to the employer or the employer’s business activities and if it contributes to the employer’s business activities or generates revenue.
In addition, the training should not contribute (to a significant degree) to the production of any goods the employer intends to supply (as part of the provision of goods or services) or to the supply of any services for which consideration is received.
Employees must be paid at least the National Living Wage/National Minimum Wage/Apprenticeship Minimum Wage (as increased on 1 April 2020) for 100% of the time spent training, even if this is more than the subsidy.