The International Chamber of Shipping has raised the alarm on seafarers’ lack of access to vaccinations, which may put the shipping in a legal minefield and affect the global supply chains.
ICS said if crew members are not vaccinated, it would create a ‘perfect storm’ for shipowners, who may be forced to cancel voyages. They will also face legal risks and financial damage, and even damage to their reputations, if the ship sails with unvaccinated crews who might be denied entry to ports.
“Shipping companies are in an impossible position. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, with little or no access to vaccines for their workforce, particularly from developing countries,” said ICS secretary-general Guy Platten.
“Many think we’re in a vaccination sprint. The reality is we’re at the start of an ultra-marathon, and seafarers will be key in getting across the finish line,” said Platten.
ICS saw states requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers. If our workers can’t pass through international borders, this will undoubtedly cause delays and disruptions in the supply chain. For a sector expected to help drive the global vaccination effort, this is unacceptable,” Platten said.
ICS estimates that 900,000 of the world’s seafarers, well over half the global workforce, come from developing nations. Reports showed that developing nations will not achieve mass immunization until 2024, with some 90% of people in over 65 low-income countries standing little chance of vaccination in 2021.
If seafarers have no direct access to vaccines, shipowners fear a return to the crew change crisis of 2020 that saw 400,000 seafarers stranded onboard ships across the world due to travel restrictions and international lockdowns.
ICS said the port delays due to unvaccinated seafarers would open up legal liabilities and costs for owners, which would not be recoverable from charterers.
“Additionally, while owners would be able to address the need for seafarer vaccines in new contracts, owners attempting to change existing contracts or asking the crew to receive a specific vaccine requested by a port could open themselves up to legal liabilities,” ICS said.
Shipping has a crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is expected to overtake aviation in the race to deliver vaccines around the world in the second half of 2021, in a distribution drive that is estimated to take four years, according to reports.
ICS said shipping is also a vital method of transportation for accompanying personal protective equipment (PPE), whose estimated total volume will be 6-7 times that of the vaccine and refrigeration systems.
“We need to keep them safe and for governments to play their part by ensuring that vaccines for seafarers have been approved by World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use. There are currently more than 50 vaccines each at different stages of testing and approval and only some of these have been recognized by WHO as suitable for emergency use,” he explained.