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Cyprus Proposed Program to Prioritize COVID Inoculations for Seafarers

protocol for vaccinating seafarers for COVID-19
(CDC photo)

By The Maritime Executive 02-10-2021 06:39:47

While there have been repeated calls to add seafarers to the priority list of those individuals eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, a series of logistical challenges present hurdles to implementing a vaccination program for crews aboard their ships. A structure and protocol are required to implement the inoculations of seafarers.

Cyprus' Shipping Deputy Minister Vassilios Demetriades has stepped forward proposing a global approach to delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to seafarers as part of an effort to help alleviate the global crew change crisis. Cyprus believes it has developed the foundation of a workable solution to inoculations.

“Despite the international and EU efforts to date, crew changes are still very difficult, or not even possible in many countries. A global seafarer vaccination program would greatly assist the enhancement of crew changes. While we recognize that this is a complex issue in terms of both procedures and logistics, we believe that by working together a practical, feasible solution can be found,” said Demetriades.

Among the challenges they are seeking to address for the logistics of a vaccination program for seafarers, are the issues of the country of origin or residence of the seafarers, transport, and customs restrictions. They also recognize that there are issues of availability of the approved or authorized vaccines, as well as the challenge of how to administer the two-stage vaccination process currently required by the first vaccines to win international authorizations. Further, there are the questions of the subsequent time required for a seafarer to be considered as inoculated.

In letters to the EU Transport and Health Commissioners and IMO Secretary-General, Demetriades proposed what Cyprus believes could be an effective protocol to expedite the inoculation of seafarers. The process focuses on separating seafarers into two groups based on the duration of the sea voyage.

Seafarers that work on short sea routes would remain under national jurisdiction as their work keeps them closer to home. Cyprus suggests for these seafarers it would be easier to achieve regional cooperation.

For deep-sea shipping, Cyprus believes that vessels operating on long-distance intercontinental routes should be designated as an isolated COVID-19 zone; a bubble much as the industry has been operating since the start of the pandemic. The focus would be on seafarers who work long-distance, international routes who are ashore on leave. It would require a coordinated global approach to ensure adequate numbers of approved or authorized vaccines, acceptable to all governments, are available to seafarers for inoculation in their country of residence before they travel to join their respective ships. Under this structure, crewmembers aboard the ships would wait until they returned home and then be placed into the priority group to be vaccinated before their next contract.

“Cyprus is determined to work constructively towards the deployment of a global seafarer vaccination program in the most efficient way and is willing to be involved in discussions to determine a coordinated approach. We hope that regulators and industry alike will be willing to join us.”

Critical for this program to work is the recognition by governments of seafarers as key workers that play an important part in maintain global commerce.