Imagine fulfilling your responsibilities as a key worker, playing an integral role in something as crucial as the global supply chain, but then finding yourself left out of measures taken to protect you from a global disaster, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a reality for most of the world’s seafarers, who have faced strict travel restrictions, resulting in them being stuck on vessels for months at a time, isolated from their families and the countries they call home. New variants have spurred never-ending changes to regulations, further increasing uncertainty, and extended periods of isolation.
The logistics of implementing a successful vaccination programme is challenging, from seafarers accessing multiple ports to the length of time between doses. However, a successful vaccination programme is essential to move forward as an industry. With vaccines unavailable in so many countries across the globe, it is shipping’s responsibility to protect staff by providing access to vaccines as soon as possible.
The journey towards vaccination
Ardmore Shipping has been a vocal advocate of seafarer support since the start of the pandemic. Its efforts culminated in the collaborative initiation of the Seafarers International Relief Fund (SIRF), which was launched in May 2021 when the catastrophic scale of the latest wave of the pandemic in India became clear. In August, the fund met the target of raising $1 million, which was used to provide food parcels to more than 1,000 seafaring families in Kochi, Kerala as well as provide funding for support workers to deliver post-COVID medical care, counselling, and therapy, including specialist care for children.
The safety, health and wellbeing of seafarers and their families is of utmost importance to Ardmore. Ardmore Shipping launched its crew vaccination program at the beginning of July in response to the complications which seafarers, and in turn ship owners and operators, have faced since the start of the pandemic. At Anglo Ardmore, we believe that vaccination of seafarers is an integral part of these relief efforts, aiming to greatly reduce the risk of any COVID-19 cases.
Driving the delivery of doses
A handful of ports in Europe and the United States currently offer seafarer vaccination services. Throughout the process, Anglo Ardmore has kept close tabs on every dose, to guarantee that vaccinations delivered are government approved, and administered by reputable medical practitioners. These practitioners either come onboard ships to administer vaccines, or have seafarers attend shore-based medical facilities, depending on the port infrastructure and COVID-19 policies. Of course, strict safety protocols are adhered to according to the local government and port authority’s requirements.
Once arranging for Ardmore crew to utilize these services, keeping crew well-informed of the practicalities of the process has proven to be a crucial element of the project. As we’ve seen in many countries across the globe, vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation can stifle similar programs. Giving seafarers access to clear, accurate information about where their vaccine would be coming from, who would be administering it, and what full vaccination may mean in terms of their future, ensures full confidence in the process. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response received by seafarers when offered a vaccine, with many grateful to receive their doses onboard, when similar services are not yet available in their home countries.
Our crew have been given the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which removes the complication of logistics relating to provision of second doses. Boasting an impressive 70% vaccination rate across Ardmore’s fleet as of the beginning of August 2021, the company aims to have its entire crew vaccinated by the end of September 2021.
Impacts of action
Since beginning this campaign, Ardmore Shipping has seen a marked improvement in the morale of crew. They’ve reported that some health concerns have been alleviated, a better mental outlook due to the potential future value their vaccination status holds and more comfortable and confident executing their daily tasks with fellow crew members. That said, crew are still required to adhere to strict social distancing rules, as well as hygiene protocols.
Apart from the general physical and mental health of our crew, this initiative also has a positive effect on the general operations of Ardmore Shipping. As many shipowners will be aware, just a single case of COVID-19 onboard a vessel can result in a full quarantine of the ship’s crew, leading to lengthy periods of severe commercial delays and financial losses. A fully vaccinated crew doesn’t make this scenario impossible, but certainly decreases the risk of such disruptions taking place.
With over 250 members (and counting) of our crew already vaccinated, our priority is now those seafarers boarding vessels from land. It is now possible to administer vaccines to these individuals before they board, which further decreases the risk of introducing the virus onto ships.
Crew change issues remain top of mind
Despite the progress of vaccination rates and the tangible benefits, this unfortunately does not fully resolve the ongoing issue affecting the shipping industry – crew change complications. Arranging timely relief of seafarers on completion of their contracts has been extremely difficult during the pandemic. We hope that through wide-spread vaccination efforts, inspiring other companies to embrace the same initiative, these international key workers will get the support and relief they need and deserve.
Demonstrating it is possible, and the benefits of a successful programme should inspire other companies – in shipping and beyond – to step up and do what they can to assist their teams. Vaccinating staff may not be feasible for all companies, but the fact remains that tangible action, and collaboration, is required to navigate this pandemic successfully. We stand ready to offer support and advice to anyone considering embarking on a similar initiative.