As the vaccine shortage in India derails the COVID vaccination strategy of the country, Indian seafarers have marooned their employment opportunities. Indian seafarers have been losing their jobs to Bangladeshi and Indonesian crew as their vaccination remains stalled.
Earlier last week, global ship owners had made it clear that they will be only hiring vaccinated seafarers from India and temporarily suspended all crew changes in India over the COVID second wave.
So, in the wake of vaccine shortage, global ship owners have no choice but to hire seafarers from our neighbouring countries who had prioritised vaccinating seafarers.
In recent days, more and more seafarers have registered for vaccination in the Co-Win portal shedding their inhibition which has been attributed to a heightened level of awareness. However, they haven’t been successful in getting appointments for the COVID vaccine jab as the vaccine shortage continues, revealed Abdulgani Serang, the General Secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, NUSI.
Incidentally, India has opened up vaccination to those above 18 years of age from May 1 as part of the 3rd stage of the vaccination program. As of now, 14% of Indian seafarers have been vaccinated with the first dose while only 1% have undergone the full 2-dose vaccination.
Thus naturally there is a dearth of vaccinated crew in India because of which shipowners are turning to our neighbours. Captain Sanjay Prashar of VR Maritime Services had spelt the inevitable bottom line of this problem when he stated that “vaccine shortage means job loss”.
The situation is unlikely to change before August as several countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, UK, Fujairah has banned crew change with seafarers having recent travel history to India.
Strange had reiterated this when he said that seafarers have to vaccinate to be employable. Vaccination has become a do or die situation for them and not just a mere choice, as ship owners have asked managers to only send vaccinated crews.
Not giving priority to seafarers in vaccination has become costly for India as Bangladeshi crew have been lapping up the opportunity since their government prioritized them. This has happened despite seafarers getting an essential worker tag in India
Meanwhile, cruise operators have started hiring Indonesian crew over Indian crew as Indonesia has vaccinated seafarers on a priority. Moreover, the Indian government hasn’t issued any standard list of approved vaccines that can be taken anywhere and the gap between the 2 doses is quite large. This has further worsened the prospect of Indian seafarers
The global crew change crisis is likely to deteriorate further as there is a shortage of vaccinated seafarers. Globally, 1 lakh seafarers have to be supplied for crew change every month.
According to Capt Rajesh Unni, the Founder of Synergy Group, the concern regarding the seafarers physical and mental health will increase as the shortage will prompt more working hours for seafarers, making them tired, exhausted and anxiety-prone.
As of now, the Synergy Group has suspended all crew changes in India for 21 days and is monitoring the second wave in the country. The Synergy Group had been managing 370 ships and is based in Singapore.
Crude imports and container delivery is likely to be affected due to the lack of replacements in India.
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