Maritime workers in times of pandemic: what should be your place in the vaccine line?
It is well known to the naval industry that healthy and vaccinated sailors are essential to keep nations supplied, however, part of the world population has not yet paid attention to this fact. Considering the relevance of the social function of these workers, the International Chamber of Navigation (ICS) has drawn the attention of governments to prioritize seafarers and frontline seafarers in the respective national lines of vaccines against COVID-19 and designate them as key workers, thereby avoiding a repetition of the “crew change crisis” of 2020.
As 90% of world trade is moved by sea, it is possible to say that these workers are responsible for transporting most of the food, medicine and goods that we consume. Despite this, seafarers remain invisible to a large part of the population and their rights deriving from the Maritime Labor Convention and other international instruments are repeatedly violated. The restrictions resulting from COVID-19 aggravated this already existing vulnerability. Several workers were forced to extrapolate their employment contracts, in terms of the extension of surveillance shifts beyond the duration specified in the employment contracts, intensifying concerns about the safety of the ship, crew fatigue and access to health care. As a result of the crew change crisis, some sailors have been trapped at sea for approximately two years. With limited support from national governments, the main concern is that, if new restrictions are imposed, this number could increase rapidly. As a consequence, it has already been said that Covid-19 has generated a “humanitarian crisis” in the sector.
The spread of new variants of COVID-19 in Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom has resulted in increased restrictions on crew changes. The Philippines, for example, has expanded its temporary ban on changing crews to 35 countries, preventing foreign seafarers from disembarking in Philippine ports. The UK has banned travelers from South America, and the US has tightened its entry requirements. All of these measures are part of a broader global restraint around the ease of travel, given that the shipping industry is afraid that this will result in several maritime workers, becoming the collateral damage of government inaction.
Against this background, the ICS, which represents more than 80% of global shipowners, is demanding from governments – which are once again restricting travel, due to a reaction to the new mutations in COVID-19 – the recognition of the vital role that seafarers play in the supply chain.
In fact, more than 40 countries heard the call and recognized seafarers as key workers, that is, so that these sea workers can be relieved and safely repatriated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore was the first major country to list maritime workers as a priority for vaccines against COVID-19. In turn, the Brazilian government, through the Ministry of Health, included transport professionals – port and waterway – in the priority group for vaccination on January 18, 2021. However, most governments have not yet recognized , which generated a growing demand within the industry for new solutions for the distribution of vaccines before the humanitarian crisis faced by seafarers worsens.
In 2021, maritime transport and seafarers will have a more important role, since most of the vaccines, medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be transported by sea. In this regard, ICS Secretary-General Guy Patten commented that the benefits for vaccination of those responsible for transporting the vaccine and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be obvious. Furthermore, the classification of seafarers as “key workers” meets the human rights of these workers, who are unable to leave their places of work. In addition, governments will not be able to vaccinate their citizens without the shipping industry, or, more importantly, our seafarers.
BALBINO, Fernanda. Immunization of port workers will occur when there are vaccines, says Ministry of Health. The Tribuna . Porto & Mar. January 21, 2021. Available at: <https://www.atribuna.com.br/noticias/portoemar/imuniza%C3%A7%C3%A3o de-portu% C3% A1rios-occur% C3 % A1-when-there-are-vaccines-says-minist% C3% A9rio-da-sa% C3% BAde-1.138993.>. Last accessed on: 01.03.2021.
Give seafarers COVID-19 vaccine to avoid crew change crisis, says ICS.
Port Technology International Team. 21 de janeiro de 2021. Container Handling, Environment and Sustainability, Global Trade, News, Ports and Terminals, Supply Chain). Disponível em: <https://www.porttechnology.org/news/give-seafarers-covid-19-vaccine-to-avoid-crew-change-crisis/>. Last accessed on: 01.03.2021.
Shipping industry demands vaccine priority for seafarers amid renewed crew change struggles. International Chamber of Shipping. 19 de janeiro de 2021. News, Press Releases and Statements. Disponível em: <https://www.ics-shipping.org/press-release/shipping-industry-demands-vaccine-priority-for-seafarers-amid-renewed-crew-change-struggles/>.Last accessed on: 01.03.2021.