Vaccinating Seafarers to Aid Global Economic Recovery
Global vaccinations of crews are not going fast enough to prevent outbreaks onboard vessels, resulting in trade and supply chain disruptions and endangering the life of seafarers. The fact that vaccinations are going too slowly is potentially slowing economic recovery for countries trying to pull out of a deep, pandemic-induced recession.
Effect on Supply Chains
Outbreaks onboard ships could have a significant negative impact on global supply chains now that Europe and the U.S. are heading for recovery and businesses are stocking up for the holiday season. Industry experts warn that supply chain disruptions are likely to occur as some countries restrict access to crews from developing countries where vaccination isn’t going fast enough. The new delta strain is setting economies back because of the containment measures in place and crew changes happening too slowly.
A Worsening Global Crisis Unfolding
A worsening crisis will undoubtedly hurt the ability of shipping companies to swap out crews, with thousands of seafarers stranded onboard vessels for months. The crisis hit just as international freight forwarders seemed to be finally emerging from a prolonged period of port and flight restrictions.
The risks were brought into focus by several events, particularly in China and Indonesia, which interrupted major shipping routes and ports. A dozen of hospital workers were sickened in Indonesia and a seafarer died after a vessel with infected crew arrived. Also in May, the shipping industry was hard hit by a two-week closure of one of China’s major ports due to a recent outbreak in Shenzhen.
More than 100 outbreaks have been reported in April and May, with sick crews stranded on drilling platforms and ships. In comparison, in July and August 2020, when the pandemic peaked, there were about 80 outbreaks onboard ships, with 160 infected workers in offshore units.
Industry leaders warn that the coronavirus will be around for the foreseeable future even as global vaccination efforts continue. There will still be local outbreaks onboard vessels and in ports, and the shipping industry and governments need to work together to protect the health of dock workers and crews. While governments are making efforts to vaccinate crews in ports, the vast majority is still dependent on their home countries for getting vaccinated for Covid-19. At the same time, over 50 percent of the 1.6 million crew come from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India, where the vaccine rollout is slow and behind most developed countries.
Sea freight in Europe and elsewhere is likely to face repeated supply chain disruptions in the absence of international cooperation. The fact is that there is no estimate of the number of crew that have been given the Covid-19 vaccination. While vaccine rollout has picked up speed in India, the drive needs momentum, and shipping companies are still struggling to find replacements. And while there is no ban on hiring Indian crew, shipping companies are increasingly taking crews from other countries. As seafarers are designated as essential workers, experts hope that governments will get them vaccinated on priority.