UN organisations: Prioritise seafarers and aircrew for Covid-19 vaccination

The heads of five United Nations (UN) organisations have called for maritime and air transport workers to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccination. They ask for this because of the key role they play in supporting global trade and mobility, and the ongoing crew change crisis. 

Maritime and air transport rely on seafarers and aircrew. They are key workers, required to travel across borders, which may – though contrary to World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations – result in the need for them to present proof of a Covid-19 vaccination as a condition for entry in some countries.

The UN Crisis Management Team for Covid-19, under the leadership of the WHO, has recognised that all countries should consider seafarers and aircrew, who are required to travel across borders during the pandemic, as a priority group for vaccination against Covid-19.

Also read: KVNR: Concerns about vaccinating seafarers

Key workers

‘For shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated. We reiterate our call upon countries that have not done so to designate seafarers and aircrew as key workers,’ says the joint statement, signed by the heads of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the WHO.

‘Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders. We also call on governments to identify and prepare for the challenges of Covid-19 vaccination of seafarers and aircrew, particularly for seafarers spending long periods of time away from their home country,’ the statement says.

The UN bodies’ joint statement also recognises the need for an interoperable global system of Covid certificates to allow seafarers to continue to cross borders on a day-to-day basis.

Crew change crisis

The call by the UN agencies is welcomed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). The ICS says the statement recognises the hundreds of thousands of seafarers who remain affected by the “crew change crisis”, which means that they are unable to board or disembark ships. ICS is urging national governments to heed this call and recognise the ‘hidden heroes’ of the pandemic.

‘To date, shipping’s ongoing crew change crisis has been largely still invisible to the wider public,’ comments Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS. ‘Crew are working hard around the globe to keep global trade moving, with 200,000 seafarers currently being impacted by overly harsh restrictions, which stop them boarding or disembarking ships.’

Also read: IMO: Crew change crisis is far from over

He adds: ‘ICS and other organisations have been lobbying hard to get this recognition for seafarers and we urge governments across the globe to heed the call from the United Nations and recognise the fact that successful vaccination programmes will rely on those hidden heroes who deliver the vaccines and PPE around the world. Seafarers are a vital part of the vaccine roll out and need to be vaccinated themselves, and not forgotten.’

Picture by Laurahayes7751.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.