Ghana Withdraws Mandatory Vaccination Order for Foreign Seafarers

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Published Jan 21, 2022 9:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Authorities in Ghana have been forced to withdraw a mandatory vaccination policy for seafarers entering the country over concerns that shipping lines will skip its ports, which would have potentially undermined its position as a shipping gateway for West Africa.

Ghana, which has managed to vaccinate 16 percent of its population, had witnessed a surge in infections at the beginning of the year with daily infection numbers averaging 770. As a risk-reduction measure, the Ghana Port Health Service (GPH) issued a directive requiring seafarers on vessels entering the country’s ports to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The directive, which was to take effect on February 1, also imposed a $3,500 fine per unvaccinated crew member. After payment of the fine, the non-vaccinated crew/passengers would have been vaccinated by Ghana Port Health with a single dose jab (Jonson & Jonson) free of charge.

If an unvaccinated crew member refused the mandatory vaccination, the vessel would not have be granted free pratique. However, it would be allowed to transfer the unvaccinated crew member to another vessel at anchorage, so long as that vessel is not intending to carry out any operations for which the presence of a Ghanaian resident would be required.

The UK P&I Club has informed its members that Ghana has since suspended this directive. “The Club has received a further update on the current situation in Ghana, advising that Ghana Port Health have now suspended mandatory Covid-19 vaccination and associated fines,” it said in a statement.

Though Ghana has imposed some of the most stringent COVID-19 travel restrictions - requiring all visitors over 18 to provide proof of vaccination - the country believes that instituting the measures on seafarers could prompt shipping lines to skip its ports. Globally, reports indicate that fewer than 60 percent of the world's seafarers have been vaccinated. 

This could be detrimental for the country’s port facilities considering the stiff competition from neighboring countries, some of which are investing heavily to increase their capacity and attract larger vessels. Togo, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal are among nations investing on new port facilities in a bid to outdo each other with a line-up of ambitious ports development projects.

For Ghana, which has positioned itself as a gateway to West Africa, ports are strategic assets facilitating international trade and serving as gateways to landlocked countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The country has six ports, and Tema is the biggest and busiest, handling about 70 percent of the country’s trade. The port receives about 1,650 ships annually including container ships, general cargo vessels, tankers, ro-ro and also some cruise ships. 

Takoradi port, Ghana’s second busiest gateway, acts as a major transshipment hub to neighboring nations. The government is investing $475 million to on a new multi-purpose terminal designed to increase its holding capacity to one million TEUs.