The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has warned that a lack of access to vaccinations for seafarers and mandatory requirements to be vaccinated may place shipping in a ‘legal minefield’, while leaving global supply chains vulnerable
Reports suggest that some states are insisting all crew be vaccinated as a pre-condition of entering their ports. In March, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong released a mandate that crew changes can only happen with those members who received a Chinese-made Covid vaccine.
However, a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit projects that most developing nations (where more than half the global seafarer workforce hail from) will not achieve mass immunisation until 2023 if at all. And the British Medical Journal reported that some 90% of people in 67 low-income countries stand little chance of vaccination this year.
For shipowners, failure to comply would likely carry legal, financial and reputational risks, and sailing with unvaccinated crews could also lead to denied entry to ports.
Delays into ports caused by unvaccinated crew may open up liabilities and costs for owners, which ICS speculated “would not be recoverable from charterers,” adding,
“Furthermore, while owners would be able to address the need for seafarer vaccines in new contracts, owners attempting to change existing contracts or asking crew to receive a specific vaccine requested by a port could open themselves up to legal liabilities.”
ICS secretary general Guy Platten said companies “are stuck between a rock and a hard place, with little or no access to vaccines for their workforce, particularly from developing countries.”
“We’re already seeing reports of states requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for seafarers. If our workers can’t pass through international borders, this will undoubtedly cause delays and disruptions in the supply chain. For a sector expected to help drive the global vaccination effort, this is totally unacceptable.”
In the second half of 2021, shipping is expected to overtake aviation in the race to deliver vaccines around the world in a distribution drive estimated to take four years.
MSC Group vice president Maritime Policy and Government Affairs, Bud Darr said “While we haven’t seen it yet, we’re definitely concerned that the lack of vaccinations will become an obstacle to the free movement of seafarers this year.”
ICS said it is currently exploring options including the implementation of vaccination hubs across key ports, as suggested by the Cypriot Government.
Last week, the heads of five UN bodies (International Civil Aviation Organization, ILO, IMO, the International Organization for Migration and WHO) signed a joint statement calling for countries to allocate priority vaccinations to seafarers and aircrew.
ICS said shipowners fear another crew-change crisis if a plan to provide direct access of vaccines to seafarers is not found.
Mr Darr called on the industry to think more creatively. “In the short term, this means getting seafarers vaccinations in their countries where there are established programmes and sufficient supplies of vaccines. In the long term, it’s about exploring the idea of public-private partnerships. There may even be the opportunity, when the initial surge of need is met for national allocation, for manufacturers to provide vaccinations directly to shipowners to allocate/administer to these key workers” he said.
ICS guides on vaccination for seafarers and legal, liability and insurance issues arising from vaccinations can be found here.
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