Calls for vaccine priority to protect world trade

A powerful coalition of global associations has called for the world’s seafarers and air crews to be treated as essential workers and given priority access to COVID-19 Vaccines.

In a plea to global governments, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and World Health Organisation (WHO), have urged action to ensure the maintenance of global supply chains.

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered devastating consequences for human life and the global economy,” said the statement. “Maritime and air transport are two essential activities that underpin global trade and mobility and are key to a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

“More than 80% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport. The global economy depends on the world’s 2 million seafarers who operate the global fleet of merchant ships.

“Seafarers have been severely impacted by the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. As of January 2021, it is estimated that some 400,000 seafarers are stranded on board commercial vessels, long past the expiry of their contracts and unable to be repatriated. A similar number of seafarers urgently need to join ships to replace them.”

The same can be said for the world’s aircrew the statement added.

“Passenger air transport carried about 5.7 billion passengers in 2019 while airfreight represents 35% of the value of goods shipped in all modes combined. The total number of licensed aviation professionals, which include pilots, air traffic controllers and licensed maintenance technicians, was 887,000 in 2019, according to ICAO personnel statistics.  Application of stringent public health rules to air crew, including quarantine, has resulted in hindered connectivity, operational complexity and significant cost.”

It added: “Maritime and air transport rely on seafarers and aircrew. They are key workers required to travel across borders at all times, which may result in the need for them to present proof of a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry in some countries.

“This is despite WHO recommendation that, at the present time, countries should not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination for international travel as a condition of entry, as there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines. 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.”

As such the organisations said they wanted to call on governments to prioritise seafarers and aircrew in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, together with other essential workers.

“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,” said the statement. “Our organisations fully support the timely development of an international harmonised framework for vaccination certificates, to facilitate international travel for seafarers and aircrew.”

More than 80% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport. The global economy depends on the world’s 2 million seafarers who operate the global fleet of merchant ships.