Global shipowners have expressed their concerns over rising COVID cases in India and sought a vaccinated crew. India is currently the worst-hit country in the world after the US with the biggest daily uptake in COVID cases.
The situation has reached such an extent there is extreme oxygen shortage which has prompted a ban on industrial use of the same. This has further jeopardized ship recycling in Alang, the world’s largest ship recycling yard.
Amidst this, the demand for vaccinated seafarers by ship owners is likely to affect the industry. Although the Indian government has opened up vaccine registration for all above 18 yet the situation is dicey.
Many countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, Canada etc have banned crew change for seafarers with a recent history of travelling to India. Ship managers and crew firms have echoed the same sentiment.
A Singapore-based ship management company, Synergy Group has revealed that they have temporarily frozen all crew change in India for 21 days after closely monitoring the situation.
Although vaccines will now be available to all above 18 from May 1 yet the waiting time worries them. Seafarers can be kept in this unending uncertainty and lose their jobs.
According to Captain Sankalp Shukla, the Chairman of The Foreign Ship-owners Representatives and Ship Managers Association (FOSMA), ship owners have asked for vaccinated seafarers as they are aware of the time required for the complete 2 dose vaccination.
Meanwhile, seafarers’ unions have started urging their members to vaccinate. National Union of Seafarers of India ( NUSI) General Secretary, Abdulgani Serang has reiterated this when he said that to be a seafarer you need to be vaccinated.
He had underlined that the next couple of months will be a tough time for Indian seafarers over the vaccine issue and advised everyone to be ready with their shots to be employed.
DG Shipping on the other hand has revealed that seafarers should utilize the Mumbai Port Trust run hospital vaccination facility to take the vaccine shots. More such port trust hospitals in Kolkata and Kochi are being added to the facility.
Also, the seafarers have to complete both the doses before joining ships in order to ensure that they don’t miss out on the shots.
Furthermore, ship agencies have asked for an IMO approved list of approved vaccines to make it easier for seafarers to get the next shot for any other port while travelling. So far the only option left for ship managers operating in India is to freeze crew change in order to prevent any health and safety risk to the crew.
Agencies have cited incidents of seafarers clearing COVID test in India but then testing posting on arrival to the country of their service. Even tearing is becoming difficult over lab delay issues. In such a condition, this has been the most prudent step.
The Maritime Labour Convention has underlined that despite the hard times, crew change protocols have to be followed in all circumstances.