In late April, ILO adopted Resolution concerning COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers, proposed by the Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry (SDM). Cyprus is now calling for a mapping exercise to identify the number of vaccines required for seafarers ashore at seafarer supplying countries. In this context, Mr Vassilios Demetriades, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister, talks about this new resolution and how Cyprus continues to push for safe crew changes and maintain momentum with seafarer vaccinations.
SAFETY4SEA: In light of shipping currently being at the heart of a humanitarian crisis, what are the key priorities of Cyprus for the maritime industry? How does Cyprus continue to push for safe crew changes?
Vassilios Demetriades: Cyprus was one of the first countries worldwide that recognized seafarers as key workers and implemented a formal crew change process. These measures resulted in over 14,000 seafarers being repatriated or able to return to work since May 2020. Cyprus continues to prioritize seafarer welfare and is keen to support a practical and coordinated solution to the ongoing crew change challenge.
Cyprus is determined to work with all interested parties at a global level to enable crew changes to take place, even with stricter measures being deployed during the second stage of the pandemic. The SDM formally proposed a practical, global approach to delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to seafarers in response to the worldwide crew change crisis. Over the past year, the need to class seafarers as key workers has received widespread support, with Cyprus now taking this one step further in suggesting the foundation of a feasible solution to inoculations.
The suggested program comprises two main strands, one for short sea shipping, the other for deep sea shipping. For short sea shipping, national measures remain workable and regional cooperation easier to achieve. For deep-sea shipping, vessels operating on long-distance intercontinental routes should be designated as an isolated COVID-19 zone; a “bubble”. Cyprus suggests a coordinated global approach to ensure adequate numbers of approved or authorized vaccines, acceptable to all governments, are available to seafarers for inoculation in their country of residence before they travel to join their respective ships.
Cyprus’ suggestion was recently adopted by the ILO as a formal resolution and Cyprus is currently in active conversations with the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to define the way forward and put this plan into action.
Cyprus’ approach for a global vaccination program which places emphasis on vaccinating seafarers ashore is gaining more recognition and continues to be progressed. Considering that there is a need to get the vaccine from a qualified medical professional, which is accessible ashore in a dedicated vaccination centre, and the possible post-vaccine side effects can only be properly addressed on shore is essential to making a viable roadmap going forwards. Cyprus continues to progress this plan and looks forward to seeing tangible results.
S4S: What are the key challenges of this pandemic crisis for the shipping industry? Do you see any opportunities?
V.D.: Against the backdrop of the pandemic, urgency around the global energy transition has accelerated and working towards a decarbonized future is one of shipping’s greatest challenges. In addition, when we think about global challenges affecting shipping and seafarers today, the crew change crisis and the menace of piracy are both front of mind. Added to which, managing the digital transformation affects our infrastructure and operations, with the potential to reduce administration and transport costs, allow better maintenance and support to crews, improve safety regulations, and enable fully automated and autonomous vessels. Collectively, these elements summarize the key challenges facing shipping today.
While there are many challenges, we must all strive to find opportunity in adversity. Cyprus’ connection to the sea is fundamental to who we are, both as a nation and an economy. We have a proud maritime history and are committed to ensuring this continues into the long-term future.
This is why we are currently co-creating a long-term strategic vision for Cyprus’ shipping, maritime, and marine-related activities. This will ensure we are able to navigate the key challenges of the industry successfully and capitalize upon the opportunities afforded by an industry in transition. We are therefore asking the shipping community to share thoughts and ideas on certain topics, including environmental sustainability, digital transformation, and global challenges such as crew changes and piracy. We will consolidate all the information that we gather to determine a clear vision, mission and objectives to take us forward. While shipping faces many challenges in its evolution to a decarbonized and more digital future, this is a time to collaborate and create a better future together.
S4S: How will the Resolution for a global seafarers vaccination program proposed by Cyprus facilitate the shipping industry amid the pandemic? How optimistic are you with its implementation?
V.D.: Cyprus has always been dedicated to social responsibility and taking a proactive approach to the global challenges faced by shipping. Following a suggested approach to a global seafarer vaccination program in February this year we were pleased to have the campaign officially adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a formal resolution in May 2021.
The approach requires social partners, in consultation with shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations and in coordination with governments and the IMO, to undertake a mapping exercise to identify the number of vaccines required for seafarers ashore. In addition, governments and shipowners’ and seafarers’ organizations are invited to formulate a resolution, communicating to all relevant UN bodies the need for a collective approach to secure the number of vaccines identified.
We are currently engaging in active conversations with the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to define the way forward and put this plan into action to maintain momentum with seafarer vaccinations. We are positive that this is the most practical approach to be considered to date and we will do our utmost to turn this resolution into a reality.
S4S: In your view, has the industry handled the COVID-19 crisis effectively so far? What needs to be further done?
V.D.: The global vaccine rollout is bringing cautious optimism to shipping, as it is for the world at large. To a degree, the majority of ships continued to sail, and cargo continued to move, through sheer necessity in many cases. But the impact of COVID-19 on seafarer welfare has been profound, and the disruption to cargo movement and port operations has been significant. The crew change crisis has become a humanitarian issue which has taken its toll on the mental and physical wellbeing of seafarers and their shore-side colleagues alike.
The impact of these changes will continue to be felt in 2021 and beyond. It is welcome to see seafarer welfare taking on a higher profile than it has for many years and a number of maritime hubs are accelerating the vaccination of their key maritime workers. The industry is working hard to get seafarers universally recognized as key workers as they are responsible for keeping global trade moving. However, until a global vaccination program is agreed, crew change problems will persist.
S4S: In light of the COVID-19 impact on seafaring, what do you think is the most important issue/topic/element for improving crew welfare?’
V.D.: The key issue for seafarers is the crew change crisis as it not only impacts seafarers financially, but also mentally with little to no contact with others, let alone loved ones at home. With minimal Wi-Fi on board in lots of cases, the mental health of seafarers is being significantly impacted. As outlined in the responses to previous questions, this remains a primary focus for Cyprus as we engage with the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation to define the way forward and put the proposed plan into action, hopefully turning the resolution adopted by the ILO into a reality.
In addition, and despite the pandemic, safety remains the top priority for Cyprus. As a leading flag state, we continue to highlight the importance of ensuring vessels are maintained to a high standard to prevent problems out in the open ocean, endangering the lives of those onboard and also those called to help. Ensuring seafarers are working in a safe environment is essential, and providing inspections where possible will support ship owners and operators in maintaining the productivity of their vessel both today and on a long-term basis.
In general, we are urging operators to arrange surveys, audits and inspections of their vessels as early as possible while considering the circumstances within each specific location. If we can keep the personnel of those involved safe at all times, we are encouraging inspections to go ahead to meet relevant international regulations and conventions. It is essential that ship owners and operators are doing all they can to ensure seafarers have a safe and secure workplace – even amidst one of the most challenging times for not only our industry, but the world at large.
S4S: What is your key message to industry to foster resilience in COVID-19 era?
V.D.: The shipping industry is in an era of momentous change, navigating the pandemic, the energy transition and constantly evolving regulations and decarbonization targets. Collaboration will be key and I would encourage the entire sector to be adaptable. Change is happening now, and those being confident with decisions, changing processes and operations will be the leaders of tomorrow. COVID-19 has changed many things, from a boom in digitalization to shifting operations. Adaptability will enable resilience now and later.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.