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Apr 23 2020

How do NATO ships manage COVID-19 risk?

NORTHWOOD, United Kingdom - When serving on a ship, it isn’t always possible to distance yourself. Even one sailor with COVID-19 could mean the entire ship becomes infected. Therefore, NATO crews all across the Alliance are taking stringent measures to ensure this risk is minimized. 

All our missions have robust procedures in place to protect our people and prevent the spread of the virus. The particular action of each ship is dictated by the ship's national policies. In general, it’s limiting contact between ships, hand washing, disinfecting of supplies transferred, routine ship dis-infecting and, when in port for resupply, crews are not allowed to leave their ships. Our ships are essentially self-quarantined in place as units.

Because of these enhanced measures that were undertaken weeks ago, we have not seen active transmission within any of NATO’s Standing Naval Forces. So far, all our forces are able to continue conducting missions in a manner that takes precautionary measures, while still ensuring readiness. Our forces remain prepared, vigilant, and ready to act if called upon.

Our highest priority is to make sure that we are healthy and fit in order to conduct our mission and fulfil our commitment towards NATO and its member countries

“It is vital that we are able to conduct our operations and tasks regardless of the threat from COVID-19. Reducing the risk of getting the virus on board our ships in the task group is therefore one of my top priorities”, said Commodore Yngve Skoglund, Commander of Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1). 

SNMG2 Commander, Rear Admiral Paolo Fantoni, added “The threat of COVID appeared when we were at sea at the end of February. Preventative measures started back then and now are part of the fundamental objectives of our mission, allowing us to maintain our unhindered readiness at sea”. 

Groups have also preventatively conducted some dedicated exercises to train their capability to isolate and evacuate suspected cases on board. There has been no shore leave allowed for sailors from SNMG1 and SNMG2 since the end of February, and early March respectively. What is more, units and personnel joining ships from their home military bases must undergo a quarantine period, be tested prior to their departure and use dedicated military transportation.

Decontamination team disinfects food and other provisions aboard Turkish frigate Buyukada during NATO Operation Sea Guardian at Aksaz Naval Base on 31 March, 2020. 

Ships from Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) started implementing protective measures already from 27 February, including a wet chloramine carpet at the flagship entrance, antibacterial gel cans, masks and gloves.

 “Our highest priority is to make sure that we are healthy and fit in order to conduct our mission, and fulfil our commitment towards NATO and its member countries. We have, therefore, imposed firm restrictions and regulations to maintain our readiness. A clear example of this is our disinfection of all provisions and spare parts taken on board, and no physical contact personnel outside the group. Scheduled port visits are replaced by short logistical stops without shore leave. In addition all official courtesy-calls are either cancelled or digitalized. These preventive measures maintain our mission capability, despite the demanding times both for my crews and their families”, said Commander s.g. Henning Knudsen-Hauge, Commander of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One.

The development of the situation is difficult to predict, but our forces remain ready, and our work goes on. 

Story by Public Affairs Office at MARCOM

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