Lack of access to COVID-19 vaccinations is putting global supply chains under increasing pressure and placing shipping companies in a tough position when many governments mandate proof of vaccinations as a pre-condition of entering their ports.
So said the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which has announced that COVID-19 vaccinations could soon become mandatory for work at sea. This poses significant issues to shipping companies which are left in an impossible situation with little or no direct access to vaccines for their workforce, particularly from developing countries. According to ICS, over half of the world’s seafarers are from developing nations who are not expected to achieve mass immunisation before 2024.
MSC calls at 500 ports on 215 trade routes and its seafarers may need to cross multiple international borders even during one contract. With the global movement of crew already heavily restricted since the outset of the pandemic, and hundreds of thousands of seafarers who kept the world moving amid COVID-19 lockdowns still stuck at sea, the prospect of new delays or restrictions brings a fresh risk of disruption to global trade for many industries. It could even jeopardise shipping’s vital role in transporting personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and vaccinations.
“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,” said Bud Darr, Executive Vice President, Maritime Policy and Government Affairs, MSC Group, in a statement issued by ICS.
“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 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,” Bud said.
ICS also pointed out that shipowners could face liabilities and costs if vaccinations are not delivered and highlighted, as it has done before, the serious consequences for seafarers’ physical and mental well-being.
“If our workers can’t pass through international borders, this will undoubtedly cause delays and disruptions in the supply chain,” ICS’s Secretary General Guy Platten said in its statement. “For a sector expected to help drive the global vaccination effort, this is totally unacceptable.”
Photo credit @ Dwi Suswantoro