COVID-19 vaccinations of seafarers must be prioritised amid concerns that lack of inoculation for vessel crews could leave the global supply chains vulnerable, five top UN bodies agree.
The World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, International Maritime Organisation, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).issued a joint statement last week urging all United Nations Member States to prioritise seafarers and aircrew in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes.
The UN bodies’ joint statement also recognised the need for an interoperable global system of COVID certificates to allow seafarers to continue to cross borders on a day-to-day basis.
The move comes on the heels of warnings made by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) on vaccinations becoming a compulsory requirement for work at sea with some states insisting all crew be vaccinated as a pre-condition of entering their ports.
However, reports estimate that developing nations will not achieve mass immunisation until 2024, with some 90% of people in 67 low-income countries standing little chance of vaccination in 2021.
Some 900,000 of the world’s seafarers, well over half the global workforce, are from developing nations.
ICS said that was creating a ‘perfect storm’ for shipowners, who may be forced to cancel voyages if crew members are not vaccinated.
The number of seafarers stuck at sea awaiting repatriations months beyond their contracts amid inability to sign off due to travel restrictions has declined from around 400,000 in September 2020 to around 200,000 as of March 2021, with a similar number waiting to join ships.