DHS says maritime workers considered ‘essential’ during Covid-19 closures

Maritime workers — including those working on barges, in energy transportation and at ports — are considered “essential employees” and should report to work even under state or local shelter-in-place or stay-at-home restrictions designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a list Thursday of “essential critical infrastructure workers” to help state and local officials identify those who should stay on the job during the coronavirus crisis.

Calling them either shelter-in-place or stay-at-home restrictions, a growing number of states and local governments are curbing or shuttering businesses and limiting the movement of people to stem the disease’s spread. DHS stated that these responses are locally executed, state managed and federally supported.

Concerning the maritime industry, the DHS list zeros in on “port workers, mariners, equipment operators, employees who maintain marine vessels and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers.”

Also included are those involved in marine transport and storage of crude oil and petroleum. LNG facilities and transport, and workers who support the operation, inspection and maintenance of the nation’s locks, dams and levees are also considered essential. Workers involved in the necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations of transportation workers are also included.

The American Waterways Operators, the association representing the tug and barge industry, has been working closely with federal officials to make sure barge industry workers are classified as essential and are able to get to their jobs despite stay-at-home restrictions imposed where they live.

AWO has posted on its website templates of two letters that can be used by waterways companies stating that their employees are considered “essential critical infrastructure workers” under the DHS guidelines. One letter can be sent to state, city or other government bodies to assure the “free passage” of maritime transportation workers to their jobs. The other identifies employees as essential.

Both letters emphasize the importance of allowing maritime workers to get to their jobs and quote the DHS memorandum that states: “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

Letter templates and other updates can be found on AWO’s website.

As of Monday afternoon, stay-at-home and/or non-essential business closures are or will be in force in many key areas where barges operate. These include New York, Louisiana (as of 5 p.m. Monday), Kentucky, Ohio (as of 11:59 p.m. Monday), Massachusetts, Delaware (as of 8 a.m. Tuesday), Maryland (as of 5 p.m. today), Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California and St. Louis.

Check out the latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the workboat industry here.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.


  1. Avatar
    Gatorman Ordoyne on

    So, I’m a cook on a dredging barge digging access channels for rock barge today come and lay rocks for river coastal restoration in southwest Louisiana. Am I considered essential personal?

  2. Avatar
    Pauline Badenski on

    Here’s a problem. I’m high risk. My husband works 2on/2off in Florida.
    When he flys back he is supposed to do a 14-day self quarantine in case of exposure. He can’t come in our home if there’s a chance he was exposed. So with motels closed, where does he stay? This needs to be addressed by authorities.

  3. Avatar

    There needs to be testing for these men and women then if the state wants them to remain at work and in constant contact with one another on the job. Not enough is being done. My husband works at barbours cut in LaPorte, Texas and they had a case already confirmed there, and rumors of more possible cases. They are not properly cleaning, sanitizing and keeping distance from one another. If they are made to be at work at this time when everyone else is under a stay home order and putting potentially their live at risk and their families (such as myself and our children) then these men and women should be compensated and at the least be provided with the knowledge that their fellow workers have not been exposed or exposing the virus themselves. We need to know our men and women are going to be safe during this critical time.

  4. Avatar

    If my husband works on a tug boat out of Louisiana and goes into the state which is under mandatory quarantine but has a letter to get in will he be allowed back home in 4 weeks when things could have changed and our home state is lockdowned? Or could they run a chance of being stuck out there on boats and not let off?

    • David Krapf

      I believe he will be OK but check with his tug company, the Coast Guard or the American Waterways Operators to be sure. Stay safe.

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