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Press Release

ICS welcomes call from United Nations agencies to prioritise seafarers for COVID-19 vaccines

26 March 2021
Oxford University vaccine trial. Credit: University of Oxford, John Cairns

26 March 2021: The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has welcomed the joint statement signed by the heads of five UN bodies calling for seafarers to be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccinations. The World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, International Maritime Organisation and the other UN bodies issued a joint statement today urging all United Nations Member States to prioritise seafarers and aircrew in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes.

The UN bodies reiterated the key role that seafarers play in keeping global trade moving during the pandemic. They recognised 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.

Member States were strongly encouraged to take urgent action to address this issue and work with their health, immigration, border control and maritime authorities, at both national and local levels, to support the seafarers that the world needs for a socio-economic recovery from COVID-19. ICS is urging national governments to heed this call and recognise the ‘hidden heroes’ of the pandemic. Seafarers need vaccinations to allow them to continue in their crucial role, which requires them to cross international borders on a regular basis to ensure that supply chains are maintained.

Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS, commented:

“To date, shipping’s ongoing crew change crisis has been largely still invisible to the wider public. 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.

“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.

“The ongoing Suez Canal incident has reminded governments and the markets just how important global shipping is to the supply chains. Seafarers are continuing to work to maintain global trade, through exceptional circumstances and the Suez incident is only going to exacerbate the already dire crew change crisis. Seafarers must not be forgotten as soon as the canal is open again, and we call on governments to urgently act on these important recommendations.”

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

Signatories of the joint statement were: Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Guy Ryder, Director‑General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Kitack Lim, Secretary‑General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO); Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO); and Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).