‘Sod globalisation, protect the citizens’

Carl Martin Faannessen, managing director of Manila-based Noatun Maritime, is very worried about what vaccine passports will mean to the world’s crews.

Here’s a paraphrase for our times: “The gratitude of every home throughout the world goes out to the seafarers who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and struggles, are turning the tide of the Pandemic by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of global commerce was so much owed by so many to so few.”

It is of course paraphrasing Churchill, and where is a statesman when we need one? Without fail over the past 15 months, seafarers have “sucked it up” and gotten the job done. Consumers all over the world have rejoiced (and many a politician has retained power thanks to an uninterrupted flow through the global web of logistics). The gratitude is increasingly shown with restrictions.

Seafarers are key workers. We all agree. There is the Neptune Declaration, IMO’s guidelines, various campaigns in social media, etc. We’ve heard the mantra time and time again. At the same time we see that there is no immediate sign of loosening restrictions – if anything we see the opposite.

Vaccine passports will create problems for crew, the likes of which we have not even come close to

What is happening? We have, in earlier comments to Splash, made the point that each country will act in its own self-interest. That means actions will speak louder than declarations. The interesting thing is that all political systems have so far converged on the same thinking: Sod globalisation, protect the citizens. We should not be surprised. Even countries who are vitally dependent on trade are playing to the home crowd when it comes to crew changes.

But now we have vaccines. To any regulator with a penchant for what seems like a quick fix when striking a complex balance, a vaccine passport will be grabbed with both hands. And why not, if it allows their own citizens to travel and enjoy the trappings of normalcy again?

Now, predictions are usually worthless but the act of thinking things through and then making a prediction, is valuable. Here’s our bold prediction for the rest of the year and into 2022: the much-discussed vaccine passports will create problems for crew, the likes of which we have not even come close to.

Once one or more countries decide to implement a vaccine passport, there will be immediate pressure on remaining states to require this. It risks becoming a precondition to the movement of crew in places. Then look at the largest crew pools on the planet. How well are they doing in terms of rushing vaccines to the seafarers? The Economist predicts that India and China will have widespread vaccine coverage by late 2022, Philippines and Indonesia in 2023. At a guesstimate, that is two-thirds of the world’s available seafarers.

But proving again the old adage that only optimists work in shipping, we see a light. On March 19, the Filipino seafarers got a boost up the local vaccine priority-charts, after careful lobbying by the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA) and other organisations. In Indonesia we see a government that emphasises vaccinating the breadwinners to keep the wheels moving.

We can but hope that the rest of the nations providing seafarers will do the same, and that the world shies away from the temptations of the vaccine-passport (or at the very least provide generous carve-outs for crew). At least one of those hopes will be misplaced though. Here’s hoping it’s only one.


  1. Captain Faanessen is astute and perceptive and I appreciate his insight. However, things might prove even worse, in the event that “some vaccination passports are more equal than others”. Early in the pandemic some ports stopped crew changes when they found that some joining seafarers had “Covid19 test results” from tests taken before boarding which were “negative” when they were infected and infecting others. What if some country A accepts country B’s “vaccination passport” but country C does not?

  2. Dear Andrew,
    Thanks for the kind words, and you may sadly turn out to be right. Hope springs eternal, especially in shipping, and we can but implore all authorities not to apply this vaccine passport requirement to crew.

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