The Cyprus Shipping Deputy Ministry (SDM) has formally proposed a practical, global approach to delivering COVID-19 vaccinations to seafarers in response to the worldwide crew change crisis. Over the past year, the need to class seafarers as key workers has received widespread support, with Cyprus now taking this one step further in suggesting the foundation of a feasible solution to inoculations.
In letters to the EU Transport and Health Commissioners and IMO Secretary-General, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister, Vassilios Demetriades outlined the two strands of the proposed programme and emphasised the need for a practical, feasible and collective approach to addressing the issue of seafarer inoculations. The letter emphasised Cyprus’ determination to work with all interested parties at a global level to enable crew changes to take place, even with stricter measures being deployed during this second stage of the pandemic.
There are challenges with the logistics of a vaccination programme for seafarers, including the country of origin or residence of the seafarers, transport and customer restrictions, availability of the approved or authorised vaccines, the two-stage vaccination process, and the subsequent time required for a seafarer to be considered as inoculated. Therefore, Cyprus believes there should be a distinction on the basis of the duration of the sea voyage. The suggested programme comprises two main strands:
1. For short sea shipping, national measures remain workable and regional cooperation easier to achieve.
2. For deep-sea shipping, Cyprus believes that vessels operating on long-distance intercontinental routes should be designated as an isolated COVID-19 zone; a “bubble”. The focus should therefore be on seafarers ashore. Cyprus suggests a coordinated global approach to ensure adequate numbers of approved or authorised vaccines, acceptable to all governments, are available to seafarers for inoculation in their country of residence before they travel to join their respective ships.
“Despite the international and EU efforts to date, crew changes are still very difficult, or not even possible in many countries. A global seafarer vaccination programme would greatly assist the enhancement of crew changes. While we recognise that this is a complex issue in terms of both procedures and logistics, we believe that – by working together – a practical, feasible solution can be found. Cyprus is determined to work constructively towards the deployment of a global seafarer vaccination programme in the most efficient way and is willing to be involved in discussions to determine a coordinated approach. We hope that regulators and industry alike will be willing to join us.” Vassilios Demetriades, Cyprus Shipping Deputy Minister
Cyprus was one of the first countries worldwide that recognised seafarers as key workers and implemented a formal crew change process. These measures resulted in over 10,000 seafarers being repatriated or able to return to work since May 2020. Cyprus continues to prioritise seafarer welfare and is keen to support a practical and coordinated solution to the ongoing crew change challenge.