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IMO Urges Priority For Seafarers For Coronavirus Vaccine

Following the passage by the General Assembly of the United Nations of a unanimous resolution urging that member governments enact policies to allow sailors and seafarers to be  repatriated from lockdowns aboard their vessels, and for regular crew changes to be resumed, the secretary general of the International Maritime Organization has urged that seafarers be given first priority when the vaccines for COVID-19 become available.

The General Assembly is the U.N.’s highest body. While its resolutions are nonbinding, it’s notable that all 193 members signed on to the resolution.

IMO General Secretary Kitack Lim said the “key worker” designation urged by the U.N. should ensure that seafarers and maritime workers receive priority vaccinations.

The U.N. resolution acknowledges that shipping has continued to transport more than 80 percent of world trade, including vital medical supplies, food and other basic goods that are critical for the COVID-19 response and recovery, and that about 2 million seafarers working on more than 98,000 commercial ships transported more than 11 billion tons of seaborne trade in 2019.

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Since the outbreak of COVID-19, some of these seafarers have been stranded on their vessels, effectively locked in unwilling quarantine and unable to rotate crews. The resolution notes that “challenging labor conditions of seafarers and fishers have been further exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related response measures, including personal safety and health, conditions of work and the ability of seafarers and fishers to join and leave vessels, the inability of vessel operators and owners to change crews, in addition to other social and economic hardships arising from COVID-19.” It says the “the situation of seafarers stranded at sea because of the pandemic requires an urgent and concrete response from all actors involved, including the private sector.”