Global vaccination drives for seafarers are currently going so slowly that it will be unable to prevent potential outbreaks on ships, resulting in trade disruptions, endangering maritime employees, and slowing economies trying to recover from the pandemic shock.
Infections on ships could impact already strained supply chains as Europe and the US recover and companies begin to stock up for Christmas.
The shipping industry is sounding alarms as infections tend to rise and ports continue to restrict seafarers’ access from developing countries that supply a majority of maritime workers but cannot inoculate them.
All signs now point to a worsening crisis just as the industry appeared to be recovering from months of port restrictions that limited the capability of shipping firms to swap crews.
The situation has left thousands stuck at the sea for several months. The risks had been brought into focus by two recent events that had interrupted activities at essential ports as well as shipping routes.
In Indonesia, a sailor passed away and dozens of healthcare workers in May had been tested with the Covid-19 delta variant following the docking of a ship with an infected Filipino crew.
Around the same time, global shipping had been thrown into chaos after one of China’s busiest ports had shut down for weeks because at least one dock worker was infected owing to a broader Covid-19 outbreak in Shenzhen.
Despite ongoing efforts in the US as well as elsewhere to inoculate seafarers at ports, most seafarers are largely dependent on home countries for inoculation.
Over half of the 1.6 million seafarers worldwide come from developing nations like the Philippines, Indonesia, and India which are behind most developed economies in terms of vaccinations.