ICS says lack of vaccination access puts shipping industry in legal minefield

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has warned that lack of access to vaccinations for the world’s seafarers was placing shipping in a ‘legal minefield’. The ICS also said that it left global supply chains open to disruption.

The ICS is scheduled to circulate a legal document later this week to the global shipping community later this week that highlights concerns that vaccinations could soon become a compulsory requirement for work at sea. This is because of reports that some governments are now insisting that all crew are vaccinated if they are to be allowed to enter ports.

However, the ICS noted that recent reporting had estimated that developing nations would not achieve mass immunization before 2024, with some 90% of people in over 65 low-income unlikely to be vaccinated this year.

The ICS has said that that 900,000 of the world’s seafarers – far more than half of the global seagoing workforce – were from developing nations. It said that this could turn out to be exceedingly problematic for shipowners, who could be forced to cancel voyages if crew members were not vaccinated. The ICS observed that shipowners also risked legal and financial damage, as well as reputational risk, if they sailed with unvaccinated crews who were subsequently denied entry to ports.

ICS secretary-general Guy Platten said that shipping companies were in an impossible position. “They are stuck between a rock and a hard place, with little or no access to vaccines for their workforce, particularly from developing countries”.

Platten said that the ICS was already seeing reports of states requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination for seafarers. “If our workers can’t pass through international borders, this will undoubtedly cause delays and disruptions in the supply chain. For a sector expected to help drive the global vaccination effort, this is totally unacceptable,” he said.

Delays into ports caused by unvaccinated crew could also generate legal liabilities and costs for owners, and these would not be recoverable from charterers, the ICS has said. While owners would be able to address the need for seafarer vaccines in new contracts, owners attempting to change existing contracts, or asking crew to receive a specific vaccine requested by a port, could also leave themselves open to legal liabilities, the ICS said.

The ICS said that it was likely that a Covid-19 vaccination would be required by most, if not all, states and therefore it would reasonably be considered to be a necessary vaccination. The ICS said that it was currently exploring all avenues to find a solution, including implementing vaccinations hubs across key international ports, as has been suggested by the Cypriot government (see yesterday’s IMN, March 23rd).

 “Many think we’re in a vaccination sprint. The reality is we’re at the start of an ultra-marathon, and seafarers will be key in getting across the finish line,” said Platten. “We need to keep them safe and for governments to play their part by ensuring that vaccines for seafarers have been approved by WHO for emergency use. There are currently more than 50 vaccines each at different stages of testing and approval and only some of these have been recognized by WHO as suitable for emergency use. Yet some states are imposing vaccines for seafarers that are not on the WHO list of vaccines for Emergency Use. If we’re to maintain internationalised workforces, this needs to change immediately.”