The complexity of implementing a vaccination program for seafarers has drawn much discussion with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) the latest organization to warned that the lack of access to vaccinations is “placing shipping in a legal minefield.” The unresolved issues of how to implement inoculations for seafarers is creating a “perfect storm” for shipowners warns the labor organization saying that the shipping lines might be forced to cancel voyages and face legal and financial issues if crew members are not vaccinated causing ships to be denied entry to ports.

“Shipping companies are in an impossible position. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, with little or no access to vaccines for their workforce, particularly from developing countries,” says ICS secretary-general Guy Platten. “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.”

A legal document due to be circulated to the global shipping community later this week by ICS highlights concerns that vaccinations could soon become a compulsory requirement for work at sea because of reports that some states are insisting all crew be vaccinated as a pre-condition of entering their ports. However, reports estimate that developing nations will not achieve mass immunization until 2024, with some 90 percent of people in 67 low-income countries standing little chance of vaccination in 2021. ICS calculates that 900,000 of the world’s seafarers, or over half the global workforce, are from developing nations.

Seafarers are among the most internationalized workers in the world, crossing international borders multiple times during a contracted period, with up to 30 nationalities on board at any one time. Delays into ports caused by unvaccinated crew would open up legal liabilities and costs for owners, which would not be recoverable from charterers, warns the ICS. 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.

“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,” says Bud Darr, Executive Vice President, Maritime Policy and Government Affairs at MSC Group. “The shipping industry needs to find creative solutions to the problem. In the short term, this means getting seafarers vaccinations in their countries where there are established programs 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.”

The International Chamber of Shipping reports that it is currently exploring all avenues to find a solution. This includes the implementation of vaccination hubs across key international ports, as suggested by the Cypriot government. If a solution to provide direct access of vaccines to seafarers is not found, the ICS fears a return to the crew change crisis of 2020 that saw 400,000 seafarers stranded onboard ships across the world due to travel restrictions and international lockdowns.

Source: The Maritime Executive