Some 90% of all goods traded globally travel by ship. On the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of seafarers were trapped on board for months. They provide a valuable service to national economies, yet they are poorly protected.

Dimitrios Fafalios, Chairman of the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (Intercargo) describes as “extremely disappointing” the vaccination programme for seafarers in an interview to Antonis Karamalegkos.

What do you think about the ongoing vaccination programme for seafarers?

In two words, extremely disappointing! The shipping industry through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in September 2020 has tried and succeeded in asking governments to designate seafarers as key workers. Further efforts at the United Nations (December 2020) and the International Labour Organization (March–April 2021) reinforced the seafarers’ status, on paper, at least.

This was requested to permit seafarers to be allowed to sign on and off from their vessels and travel to/from ports following a strict set of health protocols. In addition, seafarers were not allowed shore access for medical treatment in many countries. Equally the seafarers’ key worker status was hoped to assist them in being vaccinated as a matter of priority in their home countries.

Seafarer vaccination has been slow and not satisfactory; it is not just the issue of vaccine availability, it is about national vaccination programs. The shipping industry expected and has requested governments to prioritise vaccination of national seafarers within national vaccination programs. Further down the line, those countries should take on the responsibility of port states and set up dedicated vaccination centers to vaccinate international seafarers for ships visiting their ports;

More support is needed from other players in the supply chain, such as cargo interests and charterers.

What additional actions do you think that governments should take?

Governments should not pay lip service to declaring seafarers as key workers on the one hand and then deny them basic health and human rights on the other! Countries should share their vaccination and health developments to combat Covid-19 with other nations to promote and encourage more countries to take similar measures to prioritise vaccination of national and international seafarers. Governments need to actively support seafarer vaccination.

Recently, a marine employers’ association struck a deal in principle with a vaccine manufacturer to buy 1 million vaccines for seafarers. This deal, at great cost to the employers, may fail due to government regulation restricting the vaccine maker to be able to sell only to governments!

Dimitrios Fafalios also talks about the numerous challenges the shipping industry faces, in the wake of the pandemic crisis. He notes that bureaucracy must be tackled to see more ships flying the Greek flag. 

You can read the full interview in the the May/ June 2021 issue of Greek Business File ,  available here.