IMO urges vaccine priority for seafarers

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has backed a resolution calling for the world’s seafarers to be given priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The organisation’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) adopted the resolution which recommends that Member States and relevant national authorities prioritise their seafarers, as far as practicable, in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes. Proper consideration of extending COVID-19 vaccines to seafarers of other nationalities is also recommended, taking into account their national vaccines supply.

It comes after IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim called on all IMO Member States to support a fair global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, beyond fulfilling their national needs, to ensure seafarers can access vaccines.

In a statement, Lim reiterated his call for seafarers and marine personnel to be designated as “key workers” and noted that some key maritime labour supply countries are reliant on the COVAX initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to access vaccines.

“To ensure access to vaccines of those countries, I call on all IMO Member States to work together towards a fair global distribution, beyond fulfilling their national needs. No seafarers should be left behind or forced to forgo their careers because of limited resources in their home country”, Lim said.

He added: “The health of the world’s seafarers and the safety of their workplaces has to remain one of our main priorities and can only be guaranteed if industry and Member States continue to provide all necessary measures such as testing, appropriate PPE, access to medical care and sanitation facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.”

“We cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis at sea. I therefore reiterate my call to all Member States to designate all seafarers and marine personnel as ‘key workers’ providing an essential service. To date only 58 of our 174 Members have notified me that they have done so. The designation of seafarers as “key workers” will facilitate their access to vaccination, since most States are prioritizing essential workers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, in accordance with the WHO SAGE Roadmap”, Lim added.

The MSC resolution calls on coastal states to develop appropriate plans, where feasible, to provide necessary infrastructure and facilities to support COVID-19 vaccination of seafarers. Given the limited period of time ships are in port, single dose COVID-19 vaccines for seafarers would be preferable.

“The resolution recognises the need to protect seafarers through vaccination, as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders; while also noting the limited and highly uneven access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, and highlights the importance of cooperation among the countries,” said an IMO spokesperson. “The resolution also invites Member States, international organizations, shipping companies and other stakeholders to inform seafarers about the safety and possible benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination, bearing in mind that taking the vaccination is a decision made on an individual basis.”