Crewing crisis looms as vaccine rollout stalls

A resolution for a global seafarers vaccination program proposed by the Cyprus shipping deputy ministry (SDM) has been officially adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The resolution calls for a mapping exercise to identify the number of vaccines required for seafarers ashore at seafarer supplying countries.

Nevertheless, the slow rollout of a global vaccination program for seafarers is proving troublesome for the shipping industry with some shipowners, operators and charterers now saying they will only take crew who have had both shots of their Covid vaccine.

“If you want to continue to be a seafarer, then you need to get the vaccination; companies are only giving employment to those who have taken their vaccine doses,” Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) wrote in a message to members this week.

“Get your complete vaccine doses and be ready for employment,” he added.

Companies are only giving employment to those who have taken their vaccine doses

Adding a further kink to crew availability, the soaring volume of Covid cases in India has seen many places around the world ban crew changes for anyone with a recent travel history to India.

“The confluence of the slow rollout of seafarer vaccines and India’s escalating Covid-19 crisis is worrisome,” Kishore Rajvanshy, the managing director of Hong Kong shipmanager major Fleet Management, told Splash today. “For the maritime trade to continue unabated, it is important for governments of not only the crew supplying nation, but also crew change hubs to prioritise seafarers as key workers and give them priority access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

Rajvanshy relayed that for Chinese seafarers, who make up 20% of Fleet’s crew, vaccine rollout has been smooth and all seafarers are inoculated before onboarding. For Filipino and Indian seafarers, Fleet’s 12 local crewing offices are actively encouraging seafarers to get registered for vaccination and monitoring inoculation rates in real time. 

“Governments in both these countries are committed to get the seafarers vaccinated. However, with the apparent shortage of vaccine availability in both countries, uncertainty remains,” Rajvanshy said. 

Frustrated by the lack of progress in the vaccine rollout for seafarer key workers and the slow pace of international efforts, InterManager, the association of third party shipmanagers, has vowed this week to work separately to obtain much-needed Covid-19 vaccines.

The United Nations has designated seafarers as essential workers but so far only 58 countries have followed this directive and are prioritising seafarers to enable them to travel to and from vessels. In addition, vast numbers of seafarers originate from developing countries where the official rollout of vaccinations are hampered by the availability of vaccines, thus compounding the problem.

India and Belgium have this week committed to getting seafarers vaccinated at their ports.

International dry bulk shipping organisation Intercargo lashed out at the vaccination “lottery” facing seafarers in a release from March 31.

Not only are vaccine passports looking like a necessity for seafarers, even specific brands of doses are being demanded, something Intercargo said could lead to a breakdown in commodity deliveries around the world if strictly enforced.

“We are seeing a number of port states suggesting that all crew onboard a vessel must be vaccinated as a pre-condition of entering their ports, and indeed insisting on a particular brand of vaccine,” said Dimitris Fafalios, chairman of Intercargo. Fafalios declined to specify which port states are demanding seafarers use a specific brand of vaccine when quizzed by Splash earlier this month.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
Back to top button