IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has called on all IMO member states to support the fair global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, beyond fulfilling their national needs, to ensure seafarers can access vaccines.
In a statement, Mr. Lim reiterated his call for seafarers and marine personnel to be designated as “key workers” and noted that some key maritime labour supply countries are reliant on the COVAX initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to access vaccines.
“To ensure access to vaccines of those countries, I call on all IMO Member States to work together towards a fair global distribution, beyond fulfilling their national needs. No seafarers should be left behind or forced to forgo their careers because of limited resources in their home country.
“The health of the world’s seafarers and the safety of their workplaces has to remain one of our main priorities and can only be guaranteed if industry and Member States continue to provide all necessary measures such as testing, appropriate PPE, access to medical care and sanitation facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis at sea. I, therefore, reiterate my call to all Member States to designate all seafarers and marine personnel as “key workers” providing an essential service. To date, only 58 of our 174 Members have notified me that they have done so. The designation of seafarers as “key workers” will facilitate their access to vaccination, since most States are prioritizing essential workers in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes, in accordance with the WHO SAGE Roadmap,” Mr. Lim said.
Seafarers’ lives and work have been affected dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last quarter of 2020, the estimated number of seafarers globally waiting to either be relieved or join their ships stood at 400,000. Now, in May 2021, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the IMO Member States, the shipping industry, social partners and IMO’s sister UN agencies, the number is currently estimated to be about 200,000.
“However, this figure is still unacceptably high and the humanitarian crisis at sea is by no means over. Seafarers still face enormous challenges concerning repatriation, travelling to join their ships, proper access to medical care and shore leave. Despite these challenges, the seafarers onboard ships have continued working, providing an essential service for the global population”, Mr. Lim said.