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Ebola impact on shipping gets maritime scholars’ attention

November 05, 2014

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Mikis Tsimplis, director of the Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Southampton (right front in blue shirt) discusses issues presented by Tulane Law adjunct faculty member Andrei Kharchenko (LLM ’09) (center) about Ebola and the shipping industry. Others attending a two-day colloquium sponsored by the Tulane Maritime Law Center included Zhang Jinlei, vice dean of Dalian Maritime University Law School (far left), Tulane visiting scholar Liu Dafang of Shanghai Maritime University (second from left), Ellen Eftesøl-Wilhelmsson of the Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law (in red), Simone Lamont-Black of the University of Edinburgh Law School (in turquoise) and Tulane Admiralty Law Institute Chairman Frank Barry (back right).

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Tulane Law Professor Martin Davies listens to Erik Røsæg of the Scandinavian Institute of Maritime Law and the University of Oslo raise questions about Ebola’s potential impact on maritime operations.

Fears about Ebola spreading beyond the hardest-hit West African countries have focused on health care workers and other international travelers. But, with billions of tons of goods being carried by sea-going vessels annually, the maritime industry also is on alert.

So far, the World Health Organization has said infection can be avoided with proper precautions, but that hasn’t stopped hysteria in some ports, Andrei Kharchenko (LLM ’09) told a Tulane Law School audience that included scholars from the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and China.

Kharchenko’s Oct. 24 presentation was part of an annual two-day colloquium that brings together maritime law authorities from around the world to focus on scholarship in the field. Tulane’s world-renowned Maritime Law Center rotates in hosting the event with the Institute of Maritime Law at Southampton University and the Scandinavian Institute for Maritime Law at the University of Oslo.     

Presenters this year also came from the Shanghai Maritime University and Dalian Maritime University in China and the University of Edinburgh School of Law. 

Kharchenko called Ebola “the hot stuff that is boiling in everybody’s mind in shipping.”

No ports have been declared unsafe. And the WHO hasn’t designated the Ebola outbreak that’s killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa a pandemic, or a worldwide problem. But that didn’t stop pilots in Argentina from refusing to board vessels arriving from Africa until they had passed a quarantine period, said Kharchenko, who also is a Tulane adjunct professor. Elsewhere, there have been reports of medical authorities detaining ships just because of where they’ve previously stopped, even though none of their crew members were ill.

He called the situation “unpredictable” but said that if the virus escalates and quarantines become stringent, “the impact on the shipping community can be significant.”

Other colloquium topics included arbitration of maritime disputes, the Shanghai courts, European Union law and marine insurance brokers. But the most timely subject was the potential for the Ebola virus to alter shipping practices — and how it already has. 

Considerations include the situation at ports in or near nations where the disease is prevalent, as well as far-flung ports; the health of crews onboard vessels, as well as of workers handling loading and unloading. What if things change while vessels are traveling? Who is liable for a shipment that isn’t unloaded timely because of delays at a port? What if cargo is diverted? How much more will it cost to insure the goods?

“What is happening is owners are trying to include an Ebola clause” in contracts, Kharchenko said. “They are being recommended.”

Dean David Meyer said the recurring Oslo-Southampton-Tulane Colloquium is a reflection of Tulane Law School’s signature strengths in maritime and international and comparative law: “The exchange of scholars from across the globe on cutting-edge issues is core to Tulane’s academic identity and explains why Tulane’s maritime law program leads the world.”


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