ICS Calls for Vaccine Priority for Seafarers and Frontline Workers

ICS calls for vaccine priority for seafarers
(file photo)

Published Jan 19, 2021 5:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Chamber of Shipping is calling for governments to put seafarers and frontline maritime shore workers at the head of the vaccine queue and to designate seafarers as key workers, to avoid a repeat of the challenges seafarers faced in 2020. 

ICS is demanding that governments, who are once again restricting travel as a reaction to new COVID-19 mutations, recognize the vital role seafarers play in the global supply chain. The union is highlighting the importance of healthy seafarers in keeping nations supplied with vital goods, including medical supplies such as syringes and the personal protective equipment (PPE) that continue to be vital in the efforts to combat COVID-19.

“The benefits of vaccinating those responsible for transporting the vaccine and PPE around the world should be obvious,” says Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS. “Governments must class seafarers as key workers and give them priority access to the vaccine. If we want to maintain global trade, seafarers must not be put to the back of the vaccine queue. Governments will not be able to inject their citizens without the shipping industry or, most importantly, our seafarers.”

The ICS highlighted that the nature of shipping demonstrates the special requirements to vaccinate seafarers. The average ship has a mix of at least three nationalities on board, and sometimes as many as thirty says the ICS. This, they say makes the possibility of vaccinating by nationality, which is the current model of vaccine distribution, challenging. Priority access to vaccines for all seafarers, and clear ‘vaccine passport’ protocols in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, is seen as vital to the maintenance of global trade. 

While more than 40 countries have so far recognized seafarers as key workers, the ICS highlights that the majority of seafaring nations have not, creating a growing demand from within the industry for new solutions to the issue of vaccine distribution, before the humanitarian crisis facing seafarers gets any worse. With the spread of new variants of COVID-19 in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK contributing to stricter crew change restrictions globally, the ICS fears that the challenges encountered in 2020 will only grow more severe for seafarers in the coming months. 

The ICS is seeking to remind governments that seafarers have been caught at sea. Overrunning their contacts and raising concerns over ship safety, crew fatigue, and access to healthcare. Without support from governments, recognition as key workers, and priority for vaccines, the ICS is concerned that, under new restrictions, the situation for seafarers will only get worse as efforts are renewed seeking to again contain and mitigate the spread of the virus.