Crew changes are being hindered by a lack of access to vaccines. “Resolving the crew change crisis will require all seafarers to have access to vaccines,” says Guy Platten, Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping.
Although there has been progress in getting vaccines to seafarers (including citizens and non-nationals) in some parts of the world, notably in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the US and India, there are still major problems around the world.
Limited access to vaccines because of a shortage of supply is “challenge in many key seafaring nations,” say the organisers of the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change.
The problem of a lack of vaccines and vaccine-enabling structures is a particular problem as many of the world’s seafarers are nationals of intermediate-developed or lesser-developed countries. Seafarers from intermediate-developed, or lesser developed, countries have fewer opportunities for vaccination than seafarers in the most developed part of the world.
“In the Philippines, industry partners have set up facilities for quarantine, testing and vaccination but the lack of vaccinations affects this structure”, report the organisers of the Neptune Declaration.
Challenges in vaccinating seafarers
Seafarers pose a particular vaccination challenge because they are inherently mobile so they may not come back to a given country in time (or at all) for a second anti-COVID jab. Fortunately, there is at least one single-shot anti-COVID vaccination, which is the “Janssen” vaccine by Johnson & Johnson.
It has a recorded efficacy of between 64% to 72% according to different trials. It is also highly effective in protecting against severe COVID-disease and death although it carries a minimal risk of blood clotting (although this risk is higher in younger women than for men). It can also be chilled in a normal refrigerator. Janssen also has provisional approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia.
However, even after seafarers have been vaccinated, they can still encounter numerous problems because some countries require certification of vaccination or electronic proof. And then there is the vexed issue of mutual recognition (or lack thereof) of different kinds of vaccines. Then there is the troubling matter of travel restrictions imposed by governments.
International shipping bodies such as the International Chamber of Shipping and the Neptune Declaration continue to work for seafarer vaccinations. The ICS, for example, has created a 21-page “Roadmap” with information on vaccine eligibility, implementation, distribution, administration and legal issues to aid governments and other decision-makers.
Australia, vaccinations and seafarers
Seafarer vaccination is particularly relevant to Australia. About 35.3% of our GDP is accounted for by Merchandise Trade (goods for sale and re-sale) and 45.7% of Australia’s GDP is accounted for by imports and exports. As 99.92% by volume and 84% by value of all goods and commodities are imported and exported to / from Australia by sea, the continued good health of seafarers is of vital interest to Australia.
Australians will benefit if seafarers are vaccinated.
Australia is also a particularly good place in which seafarers could be vaccinated. Australia has sophisticated institutions and structures to enable the vaccination of the large numbers of seafarers that come to Australia every year. In the 2016-2017 financial year (the latest year for which figures are available), there were 5,743 cargo ships that made just over 17,000 voyages to Australia from overseas.
Shipping Australia calls upon Australian governments to help vaccinate seafarers. Apart from the obvious moral and humanitarian reasons to help vaccinate seafarers, it’s in our own interest to do so.