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Vaccination of seafarers is critical

The vaccination of seafarers is now a key focus for the shipping industry as it looks to a long term resolution of the crew change crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a recorded address at the opening of CrewConnect Europe Virtual Event IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said it continued to urge governments to designate seafarers s key workers, which would give them access to priority vaccination.

“Vaccination of seafarers is critical. Throughout the pandemic shipping has proven itself to be a reliable, resilient and effective mode of transport as a result of hard work by seafarers, we must ensure that we repay their efforts. The most important way to do this is to ensure a fair distribution of vaccinces, not seafarers should be left behind,” Lim stated.

The message of priority of seafarers for vaccination is one that employers see as key. “What we want now is for them [seafarers] to be treated as a priority when it comes to vaccination,” Francesco Gargiulo, CEO of the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC), said.

“Some countries have done it right away without much lobbying, perhaps because they had ready availability of vaccines. Some other countries have taken a lot of lobbying, and lot of pressure. Some countries are still not keen on doing it. Our key concern is most seafarers tend to come from countries where vaccines are not readily available.” These are countries such as India and the Philippines and other major crewing nations.

Gargiulo said “massive kudos” was due to the US for vaccinations for seafarers available to 50 – 60 ports, however, noted the US has a surplus of vaccines unlike many crew supply nations.

Simon Frank, Chief Human Resources Officer of Thome Group echoed the comment of kudos to the US for providing seafarer vaccinations. “It has been a great help for us, we have almost 400 seafarers now vaccinated with a single shot vaccine,” he said.

Looking at individual states Peter Smit, CEO of Boers Crew Services, noted the Dutch government has said that the seafarers Dutch flagged-vessels and Dutch-owned vessels the personnel could be vaccinated. While this was good it also meant that 35,000 seafarers not based in the Netherlands would have to be brought to the country for vaccination as it is not possible to fly the vaccines out of the country.

Speaking about its own efforts on the vaccination front as a ship manager Frank from Thome said: “From a strategic perspective we’ve made investments where we can. In India we arranged vaccine rallies in our office and invited seafarers to come in and get vaccinated.” However, increasing gaps of up to eight weeks between first and second doses can make seafarer vaccinations challenging.

Looking ahead he said: “The expectation we have is that once we have our seafarers vaccinated they will be able to bypass all quarantine facilities and have much more smooth process getting onboard.”

CrewConnect Europe Virtual Event is part of the Maritime Online Series.