Medical Reports and a StethoscopeCruise ships, cargo ships, and other commercial vessels sail between hundreds of ports across the globe every year. While this gives maritime workers a chance to see the world, it also makes them potential carriers of communicable diseases. A single crew member traveling from a foreign port could infect their shipmates or passengers and create a health crisis on U.S. shores.

To prevent the unintentional spreading of disease, federal lawmakers have put statutes in place requiring captains, shipowners, or other shipmasters to report any illnesses suffered by the crew. Failure to make timely reports risks the health of the people in the next port, and it could also help demonstrate negligence in a Jones Act injury claim.

Federal Requirements for Reporting Illnesses Suffered by Maritime Workers

42 CFR Sec. 71.1 requires captains to report any deaths or illnesses that occurred on the vessel immediately to the quarantine station at the port of arrival, even if the ill travelers have already disembarked or were removed from the ship. However, shipmasters are not required to report minor conditions such as an infected cut or the common cold.

The law requires reporting any condition that has resulted in a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit plus one or more of the following:

  • Fevers lasting 48 hours or more
  • Unexplained skin conditions such as rashes, bruises, or bleeding
  • Persistent cough, difficulty breathing, or other respiratory problems
  • Headache with a stiff neck
  • Confusion or reduced consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Three or more bouts of diarrhea within 24 hours (regardless of the presence of fever)
  • Vomiting combined with diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, or muscle aches (regardless of the existence of fever)

The reporting statute also requires that any master of a ship carrying 13 or more passengers must report the number of cases of acute gastroenteritis in passengers and crew recorded in the ship's medical log during the current cruise. This must be done 24 hours before arrival. Any other cases of AGE occurring after the initial report must be sent at least 4 hours before arrival.

In addition, any suspected or confirmed cases of the following quarantinable diseases must be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Cholera
  • Diphtheria
  • COVID-19
  • Infectious tuberculosis
  • Plague
  • Smallpox
  • Yellow fever
  • Viral hemorrhagic fevers
  • Severe acute respiratory syndromes
  • Novel influenza viruses
  • Measles

What Happens After Illnesses Are Reported?

Once the authorities have been notified, the CDC and Coast Guard will coordinate the best response. Depending on the crew member’s symptoms, the crew may be subjected to bodily testing or data collection, while more widespread outbreaks may require quarantine.

In 2017, a study published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease looked closely at 2891 maritime case reports of injuries and deaths at sea using records from CDC Quarantine Stations. The study showed not just the necessity of reporting potentially-hazardous illnesses but also some surprising statistics:

  • The most frequently-reported individual illness was varicella, commonly known as chicken pox or shingles.
  • The CDC coordinated 63 contact investigations in response to 7695 cases of influenza-like illness. The CDC found 972 positive contacts, and 88% were notified so they could take preventive action.
  • Three contacts with whooping cough (pertussis) were identified as secondary cases.
  • One tuberculosis contact was diagnosed with active tuberculosis.
  • The most frequently reported causes of death were cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions.

Occupational Illnesses Are Covered Under the Jones Act

Failure to report known, suspected, or confirmed communicable illnesses exposes shipmasters and their vessels to criminal and civil liability. Shipmasters are placing their employees at risk by allowing this hazardous condition to exist in the workplace. They could also be liable for affecting the health of dockworkers, harbor employees, people who work and live near the U.S. port, and any new crew or passengers who joined the vessel during its voyage.

If you suffered exposure to a deadly illness while working on your vessel, the experienced maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can protect your rights—and we don’t collect any payment unless we win your case. Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or learn more about your claim in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.