Seafarers should be prioritised for testing and vaccine protection so that they could continue to do their vital job, said union Nautilus International, representing maritime professionals in the UK.
Currently, an estimated total of 400,000 seafarers are stuck at sea beyond their contractual obligations due to Covid-19 restrictions that prevent crew changes. In some cases, crews have been at sea for 20 months without a break, denied shored leave, and prevented from seeing loved ones.
With seafarers recognized as key workers and critical to supply chains, they should be added to the list of frontline workers to receive Covid-19 protections, the Union stressed.
I recognise that there are others too that need these protections but I am asking those drawing up the deployment plans that they take into account that our members have kept trade moving throughout the pandemic, kept shelves stocked with foods and medicines, often at great personal expense and risk, through long months stuck at sea unable to see family and friends,
…said Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson.
In its communication to the European Parliament and the European Council on Preparedness for Covid-19 vaccination strategies and vaccine deployment, the European Commission identified priority groups for the initial phases of vaccine deployment which included transportation workers.
The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said the first phase of rolling out a vaccine would focus on NHS and care home workers, people over 50 who are at most risk, and adults with a health condition that puts them at greater risk of dying from Covid-19.
A second phase of the planned vaccination programme could include people under the age of 50, however the priority list is subject to change depending on the response from the first phase.
During an IMO meeting which gathered UN agencies, shipping organizations, unions and maritime and logistics businesses earlier in November, experts agreed that the vaccine alone is not enough to resolve the crew change crisis and the focus needs to be on developing a range of practical solutions.