Advice on radiation risks

Members have recently enquired whether seafarers on board ships due to call at eastern ports in Japan such as Kashima are entitled to refuse to continue on the voyage and disembark for fear of radiation in this area.

– Cover

– Grounds for refusal & response

– Sources of information and advice

Updates and advisories

Headlines of the key advisories from our Japan Branch, our correspondents ISS and other relevant agencies are listed below. 

The items are continually updated so that only the latest information is displayed.  Click on the relevant item to display the full content of the advisory message.

Date: 20/06/2011
This ports update bulletin is revised as and when new information on wet bulk terminals is received.  Whilst the web page displays just those terminals where damage and or interruption has been reported, a spreadsheet listing the status of all terminals for which we have reports is attached to the bulletin.  A Japan ports map listing contact numbers for all the major ports is also listed.
Date: 19/06/2011
The attached document provides a list of recorded radioactivity levels in various locations in Japan as at the 20th June.  It also contains a guide to the levels of radioactivity in microsieverts corresponding to different environments.  This document is published in Japanese and English.
Date: 10/06/2011
This advisory gives recommendations to ship operators in respect of additional screening that may be required by US Coast Guard for ships that have transited waters in the vicinity of Japan's island of Honshu.  This advisory cancels the previous advisory reference no. 2011-02.
Date: 05/05/2011
Dry bulk ports in the range of Japan's eastern Honshu coast including those that bore the brunt of the tsunami on the 11th March.  This report gives, where possible, specific advice passed to us in respect of the individual wharves & terminals in these locations.  A number of ports have been designated for aid & emergency cargoes only.
Date: 15/04/2011
Radioactive material from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant is gradually spreading outside Japan into the global atmosphere but at extremely low concentrations that do not present health or transportation safety hazards, according to the United Nations organizations closely monitoring the situation. Japanese authorities confirm that all airports in the country, with the exception of Sendai which was affected by the tsunami of 11 March, continue to operate normally for both international and domestic operations. Continuous monitoring around these airports confirms that radiation levels are well within safe limits from a health perspective. 
Date: 23/03/2011
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued a circular letter advising shipmasters to comply with the latest navigational warnings issued by the NAVAREA XI Coordinator (Japan), in the wake of damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
Date: 30/03/2011
Ince & Co. have prepared an excellent paper titled "The Japanese natural disaster and its consequences:legal issues arising for the shipping and trade industries" which reviews shipping issues such as safe port, deviation, bills of lading, frustration and force majeure among others.
Date: 29/03/2011
Japanese Container ports located south of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami are undamaged but questions remain surrounding future power supplies. The Club would recommend that where carriers accept refrigerated...
Date: 17/03/2011
Following the tragic events in Japan the Managers have received a number of charterparty enquiries, in particular in relation to the prospective safety of Japanese ports and the obligation to comply with a charterer’s orders to proceedto a port in Japan. The situation on the ground in Japan continues to develop on a day by day basis and any specific enquiries that Members may have will depend on the terms of any charterparty as well as the current situation. Set out here is some general guidance on some of the key issues. Should Members wish to discuss these or any other issues in more detail then they should speak with their usual contact within the Managers.
Date: 18/03/2011
A press release advising the arrangements for radiation monitoring of incoming cargo and passengers has been published on the US Customs and Border Protection website. US Maritime Administration advisory 2011-02 issued March 17th recommends extending cautionary area to 50 miles (80 km) from Fukushima nuclear power facility.  Ships that transit within that area and intend to call subsequently at US ports must advise the appropriate US Coast Guard port captain within the usual 96 hour advance notice of arrival.

Frequently asked questions

The following questions are presented as hyperlinks to the full text of questions and the appropriate advices.  Simply click on the question to move to the relevant position on this page.

I have an incident in Japan. What can the Club do?

The UK Club's representative office in Japan is currently open.  However, it is operating under necessary restrictions.  Domestic travel within Japan has been severely disrupted, and electricity and telephone networks cannot be guaranteed. 

The Tokyo and Imabari offices of our correspondents are also open

An emergency contacts list has been posted on the Club website to assist Members should regular channels be temporarily unavailable.

Many ports are closed due to extensive damage and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami.  Some ports that appear less affected may stay closed whilst damage is assessed and access to port areas will not be allowed. 

The Club and its correspondents will respond to all requests for assistance, however Members should be aware that many normal service activities will be difficult to fulfil in the short term. 

I have a ship in Japan. Is my cover affected?

P&I cover is unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami events in Japan, save in respect of risks arising from nuclear radiation which are excluded from cover, both in the insurance markets generally and under P&I Club Rules.

My ship is carrying a cargo which is due to be discharged in Japan. Do I have to proceed?

Unwillingness by Members for their ships to proceed with cargo destined for Japan can raise a number of issues, particularly where there are bill of lading obligations to deliver cargo to a specific port. 

If that port is closed, then the terms of the governing bill of lading and any charter party should be closely examined.  Many liner bills of lading will include wide liberty provisions whereby cargo can be delivered at an alternative port.  Similarly, in the bulk and/or tanker trade, there will often be provisions enabling a ship to deliver cargo "so near as she may safely get" to the discharge port. 

Although some ports within the earthquake and tsunami zone have been shut down for weeks, if not months, all other ports along the Pacific coast and those adjoining the Sea of Japan are now said to be open.

Members can expect operational delays at some ports where handling equipment may have been damaged, or onward transport affected.  Port status updates are being regularly posted on the Club website (See Updates & Advisories above) and on the local correspondent’s website.

Where a port is operational, there would appear to be limited scope or justification for owners to refuse to deliver to that port. Members should contact the Club for assistance before they decline to berth or discharge in Japan. 

I have been ordered to load cargo at a Japanese port. Do I have to proceed?

This is unlikely to raise a P&I issue, but may have contractual implications which impact on FD&D cover. 

Delays arising from port calls in Japan are highly likely, even where the port may be fully operational.  A number of major shippers in Japan, e.g. Toyota, Nissan and Sony, have experienced factory shut downs, and the knock on effects of the earthquake to logistics and transport infrastructure will be very significant.

As and when more information arises the Club will be posting details on this section of the website and issuing further updates.

I am concerned at the risks associated with exposure to radiation.

Members should be aware of the Japanese government’s 30 km exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear power station and the closure of many ports in the north east coastal region of Japan’s main Honshu island.

Current situation
The current situation appears to be that the area of radiation exposure is localised to the damaged plant.  However Members should monitor events very closely, as a further explosion at the plant or a change in the wind direction could alter this significantly.

Members should avoid the exclusion zone and monitor any changes to it.  The Japanese Coastguard is issuing bulletins regarding navigational restrictions and hazards around these coastal areas.  These bulletins are regularly posted on their website

A link to the Japanese Coastguard site can also be found above via the Updates & Advisories section of this web page.

The Club is collating links to the key agencies issuing advisories on nuclear and radiation risks in the area, namely, the International Atomic Agency, the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the Japan Government Incident website.

Basic precautions
The Club's nuclear consultants consider that the levels of radioactivity presently reported should not be a threat to the safety of seafarers sailing outside the exclusion zone, but have emphasised the need to monitor events.  They advised that if at any time vessels transit an area where a plume of radioactivity is known to be present or likely to be present the following basic precautions should be taken:

1) All crew members should remain within enclosed areas of the vessel at all times.
2) All external ventilation should remain closed where possible and conditioned air should be recirculated with minimum fresh air input.
3) All crew members should wash hands and face prior to eating, and shower frequently.
4) All non- watertight external doors or openings should be taped around the inner frame.
5) If it is necessary for crew members to operate on deck (which should only be in an emergency) they should discard outer clothing prior to returning to the accommodation and shower immediately.

I have received cautionary advice from my government or flag state authority. How should I act?

It is possible that government authorities will issue specific guidelines in relation to trading and travel to Japan.  It is to be hoped that any recommendations will become consistent and universal, and aimed at protecting the health and safety of individuals. 

If any advice appears to be in conflict with a Member's obligations to their personnel or their contractual commitments, advice should be sought from the issuing authority, and the Club will be pleased to comment if requested.

Advice on radiation risks


P&I cover is not available under the Club Rules in respect of liabilities, losses, costs or expenses directly or indirectly caused by or contributed to by or arising from nuclear risks (as per the exclusion under Rule 5 Section F of the Association's Rules).  All P&I Clubs in the International Group have similar rules in this respect.

Grounds for refusal & response

Understandably, seafarers do not want to go in or near areas purportedly affected by radiation.  If and when Members are informed of such concerns from their officers and crew, their first response should be to consult any advice, instructions or restrictions laid down by the Japanese authorities ( See here for links to relevant Japanese authorities) and the flag state of the ship. 

These directions should of course be followed.  In addition, where a flag state of a ship has imposed stricter rules concerning voyage routes or port calls than that of the Japanese authorities, we would recommend that such rules should be complied with in any event. 

Members should also consult any advice, instructions or restrictions laid down by the states of the seafarers themselves. 

If flag states or the authorities of home countries of seafarers have issued specific rules, travel precautions or other recommendations in relation to the situation in Japan, Members should ask those authorities if and how such rules and regulations affect the rights and obligations, if any, of their crew.  It is possible that general rules, precautions or recommendations may not by themselves mean that the master or crew would be entitled under their contract of employment to refuse to call at a Japanese port.

There is general consensus within the industry that it is unlikely that a seafarer would be relieved from his professional duties solely from having formed the perception of nuclear radiation exposure, unless that perception is backed up by available and up-to-date information obtained from a reliable, official source.  It therefore follows that it is unlikely that seafarers would be in their right to refuse to continue a voyage to any Japanese port or through Japanese waters where there is clear and documented medical advice available which expressly confirms the area to be within prescribed safe radiation levels.

Members are advised to obtain as much information as possible from reliable, official sources and to pass this information onto their vessels so that officers and crew are fully appraised of the risk, if any, of exposure to nuclear radiation.  If officers and crew are to refuse to continue on their voyage to a Japanese port, they should base their decision only on official sources and not on some preconception or anecdotal suggestion that their health is at risk should they remain onboard.

Sources of information & advice

Date: 15/04/2011
The MLIT publish a specialist web page entitled “Radiological information on ports and maritime transportation".  This website provides updates on measurements taken of radiation in the regions of both Tokyo Bay and the Fukushima area.  A paper published on 13th April by the Maritime Bureau of the MLIT suggests that transiting areas outside of the Fukushima exclusion zone is safe.
Date: 15/04/2011
The World Health Organisation website provide a useful selection of pages on radiation risks arising from the Japan earthquake.  In addition the WHO publishes regular situation reports regarding radiation exposure through air, drinking water and locally grown foodstuffs. 
Date: 15/04/2011
As and when we are aware of advices published by flag state authorities we will link to them from this section of our website.

Emergency Contacts

If you need to call our offices out of hours and at weekends, click After Office hours for a up to date list of the names of the Duty Executives and their mobile phone numbers. 

Ship Finder

This Ship Finder is updated on a daily basis. Members who need to advise the Club of updates to their recorded ships' details should advise their usual underwriting contact.