Nowadays there are more than 50 000 commercial vessels in operation all over the globe transporting every kind of cargo. This includes more than 10 000 cargo ships, 7 000 oil tankers, 5 000 container ships, 5 000 chemical tankers and 4 000 passenger ships. These vessels are registered in over 150 nations and are manned by over 1 million seafarers of virtually every nationality. (Source: Water transport statistics 2015, Statista)

Increasingly growing trade and passenger sea travel poses potential danger to cross-border spread of disease and other types of public health hazards (chemical, food safety related, zoonotic, etc.). For this reason, the International Health Regulations (2005) require States Parties to develop capacities that would enable undertaking routine and emergency public health measures at the designated ports, and to issue Ship Sanitation Certificates.

Responsible port authorities are required to ensure that conveyances and facilities are kept free from sources of infection and that necessary health documents are in place, as well as issue those if appropriate. Designated ports should be able to provide a safe environment for travellers using the facilities, including drinking water supplies, eating establishments, public washrooms and appropriate solid and liquid waste disposal services. Competent authorities are required to conduct inspections, provide vector control programmes, supervise service providers, including monitoring and supervising the application of sanitary measures. If evidence is found, disinfection, decontamination or removal and safe disposal of any contaminated water or food should be carried out. According to the IHR, capacity should be in place to adopt control measures to prevent the spread of disease and its agents at ports and on vessels, such as cleaning and disinfection, decontamination, deratting, disinsecting, etc. Health measures taken pursuant to the IHR shall be carried out so as to avoid injury and as far as possible discomfort to persons, or damage to the environment in a way which impacts on public health, or damage to baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, and goods. Additionally, States Parties should further establish national plans for surveillance and response, considering their activities at designated ports.

If clinical signs or symptoms and information based on fact or evidence of public health risk is found on board conveyances on an international voyage, the competent authority shall apply control measures at the point of entry, or, if not able to carry out the required measures, the competent authority shall, nevertheless allow the departure of the ship subject to informing the competent authority at the next known point of entry of the evidence found and the control measures required.

Authorization of ports

The authorization of ports is independent from the designation of ports. States Parties shall authorize ports to issue Ship Sanitation Certificates based on Art. 20 of the IHR. Authorized ports do not necessarily need to be designated, and vice-versa. The global authorized port list is published on the WHO website.

Ship sanitation certificates

Ship Sanitation Certificate (SSC) is a document that verifies a ship's compliance with maritime sanitation and quarantine rules specified in Article 39 of the IHR. The certificate serves as proof that the ship is free of clear sources of contagion and may be a requirement for permission of entry into port in some jurisdictions. The IHR SSCs are of particular importance for the prevention and control of public health risks on board ships on international voyages. They provide internationally recognized documentation regarding the sanitary conditions of a ship, while reducing the need for further and more frequent inspections of the ship during the period for which the certificate is valid (but with options for additional inspections under certain limited circumstances).