ECSA, ETF: EU Member States must prioritize seafarers for vaccination, enable crew change

The letter urges the EU Member States and EU Institutions to show ‘leadership and international solidarity’ in tackling this stage of the global fight against the pandemic, while also asks from the Member States to explore exerting diplomatic influence with third countries to achieve international recognition for seafarers as key workers and thereby ensuring that ‘all’ seafarers are prioritised for vaccination.

Signing the letter, ECSA’s Secretary General, Martin Dorsman and ETF’s Acting General Secretary, Livia Spera, both highlight that

Seafarers are frontline workers in the maritime industry that carries 90% of global trade. They are, therefore, critical in keeping nations supplied with vital goods. Increasingly in 2021, this will include vaccine doses, personal protective equipment and syringes, to inoculate populations and defeat the virus.

The goal of the letter is to urge State Members to conduct crew changes and put seafarers first concerning the vaccination. The letter calls on all EU Heads of State and Government to ensure that seafarers are designated as key workers in all EU Member States and given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines. “Moreover, we call on EU leaders to continue to acknowledge the needs of seafarers by ensuring that any enhanced national restrictive measures provide for exemptions for seafarers and maritime personnel,” it is added.

The EU and international institutions (UN, IMO and ILO) and many more key sipping stakeholders have recognized the crucial role of seafarers and maritime workers in global transport and trade and have applauded the designation of seafarers as key workers.

The letter also applauds EU and international institutions for their efforts of calling upon States to recognize that, in view of their important role, they should be considered within the priority groups for early COVID-19 vaccination.

The two signatories of the letter stress that

We strongly call on EU Member States and EU Institutions to ensure that seafarers and maritime personnel should, in line with the key worker status, continue to be exempted from restrictions being put in place, like quarantine and pre-arrival testing requirements. This to ensure they can travel to and from EU Member States for the purpose of crew changes, shore leave or repatriation.

Although both ECSA and ETF applauded the Commission’s calls on Member States to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU and the key target dates identified they “greatly regret” that the Commission had omitted to reiterate its recommendation of 15 October 2020 to prioritise key workers, including seafarers. Thus, they strongly urge all EU Member States to designate seafarers as a category of persons to be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

This is essential not only because of their crucial importance of their role in the functioning of supply chains, but also in recognition of the heightened infection risk they face because of the extensive travel they undertake to join ships and for repatriation … Even with priority access to vaccinations, it will take some time before all seafarers will be vaccinated. During this period seafarers and maritime personnel should not be subjected to any requirement to have been vaccinated for entry to or travel within the EU.

Concluding, the letter commented on the fact that seafarers that were positively tested have been experiencing a lack of medical attention. Consequently, they urge Transport Ministers to continue to call on colleagues responsible for health and home affairs to ensure seafarers’ travel to and from vessels and their right to medical attention. Flag states have a particularly important role to play here in leading by example in facilitating crew changes in their ports and supporting their flagged vessels in efforts to undertake crew changes and repatriations globally.

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