Story by Frank McCormack, The Waterways Journal Weekly
Across the maritime industry, every company, agency, port or terminal has been impacted by efforts to “flatten the curve” of infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Shoreside staff working from home, crews transported by road rather than air and stepped-up disinfecting aboard vessels are all just a small sample of measures being taken to guard against the spread of a disease that has infected more than 600,000 Americans and more than 2 million people globally.
One example of a maritime company’s individualized effort to fight the disease is that of Ergon Marine & Industrial Supply, the Vicksburg, Miss.-based midstream and harbor service supply company. EMIS, which also has a base of operations in Memphis, Tenn., offers midstream supply and transport of groceries, fuel, equipment, supplies and crew changes to commercial vessels on the lower Mississippi River. Part of the Ergon family of companies, EMIS also houses the Vicksburg Information Center during high water to manage commercial vessel movements through the Vicksburg bridges.
Because EMIS handles a large number of crew changes, company leaders knew they had to be proactive in protecting individual crew members—and by extension other companies’ operations—while also maintaining an essential service. Danny Koestler, vice president of EMIS, said the business took swift action to screen individuals coming through the company’s boat store and to prevent interaction between different populations.
“We put in a portable building to act as a customer screening facility,” Koestler said. “We check temperatures, ask questions and keep everyone separated. If somebody’s running a temperature, we can turn them around and keep our facility and crew changes isolated.
“That way,” he added, “we can protect us and protect the boats out there, and also try and keep it from impacting industry.”
The screening process applies to employees, customer crew members, anyone making deliveries, shoreside customers and visitors. Each person’s temperature is taken and logged. Then a representative from EMIS asks three main questions: Have you been out of the country? Have you been sick? Have you knowingly been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19? All of that information is logged and stored. On site, EMIS has also provided a freestanding restroom. Once the screening is complete, each person is encouraged to await transport inside his or her own vehicle.
In addition, EMIS has closed its crew lounge and moved to daylight-only crew changes. Also, the Coast Guard, at the request of the Lower Mississippi River Committee, or LOMRC, has temporarily suspended the Vicksburg Information Center. Koestler said southbound vessels are continuing to queue themselves in accordance with Coast Guard guidelines as they would if the center were operational.
EMIS implemented the procedures in mid-March. At that time, Koestler, a member of LOMRC, sent the guidelines to both customers and LOMRC. EMIS also developed enhanced guidelines for its harbor vessels for sanitizing and keeping high-touch surfaces clean. Koestler said it’s all about being proactive during this unusual time.
“These are different times; I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life,” he said. “I think the hardest part of this, psychologically anyway, is that we’re all confined.”
Koestler added that, regardless of how long “social distancing” measures are in place, EMIS will continue forward-leaning efforts to meet customers’ supply needs while also keeping crew members as safe as possible.
This story was originally published by The Waterways Journal Weekly and is reprinted here with permission.