A major international trade association is calling for governments to give priority for vaccinations against the novel coronavirus pandemic to seafarers and frontline maritime shore workers, to protect the vital global supply chain.
The International Chamber of Shipping, based in London, said in a statement issued on Tuesday, Jan. 19, that seafarers need to be designated as key workers to avoid a repeat of the crew change crisis that occurred in 2020 when the novel coronavirus spread worldwide. Healthy, vaccinated seafarers are critical to keeping nations supplied with vital goods, which will increasingly in 2021 include medical supplies, including personal protective equipment, ICS said.
Pandemic related restrictions have already forced hundreds of thousands of workers to overrun their contracts raising concerns over ship safety, crew fatigue and access to healthcare, ICS said.
Seafarers are currently severely impacted by crew change crisis, with some now approaching two years stuck at sea. Under new restrictions imposed by various governments these numbers of impacted crew will rapidly increase rather than reduce, they said.
With the spread of new variants of COVID-19 some governments are putting crew change bans on a number of countries. This is part of a wider global retrenchment around ease of travel, which the shipping industry fears could result in hundreds of thousands of seafarers becoming the collateral damage of government inaction, they said.
The average ship has a mix of at least three nationalities on board and sometimes as many as 30. Priority access to vaccines for all seafarers and clear “vaccine passport” protocols in line with World Health Organization recommendations, is vital to the maintenance of global trade, they said.
The ICS is the principal international trade association for merchant shipowners and operators, representing all sectors and trades and over 80 percent of the world merchant fleet.