Five UN agencies call for seafarer vaccine prioritization

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Image: IMO

The heads of five UN organizations have called for maritime and air transport workers to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination, given their key role in supporting global trade and mobility, which is essential for a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

Maritime and air transport rely on seafarers and aircrew. They are key workers, required to travel across borders, which may — though contrary to 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 World Health Organization (WHO), has recognized 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.

“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 Labor Organization (ILO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The joint statement calls on governments to prioritize seafarers and aircrew in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs, together with other essential workers, in accordance with the WHO SAGE Roadmap for prioritizing the use of COVID-19 vaccines in the context of limited supplies.

“Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders,” the statement says. “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 organizations state their full support for the timely development of an international harmonized framework for vaccination certificates, to facilitate international travel for seafarers and aircrew.


The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) was quick to welcome the joint statement.

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 organizations 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 recognize the fact that successful vaccination programs 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.”

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