The world has an overwhelmingly undersupplied market of seafarers due to novel COVID-19 repercussions.
The impending global COVID-19 pandemic vastly affected shipping and supply industries earlier last year. Ports were shut down, vessels faced quarantine regulations, and supplies were unable to be brought to ships. Despite the scientific progress surrounding the pandemic, it is essential to ask: what’s the problem now? Now that pharmaceutical companies have created vaccines that are being distributed around the world, it first appeared that things were getting better. However, this is not the case for countries that supply most of the seafarer workforce.
There are 1.6 million seafarers globally divided into 774,000 officers and 873,000 ratings amongst the 5 largest seafarer supplying countries including China, The Philippines, Indonesia, Russia, and Ukraine. As of July 28th, only 294 people were fully vaccinated in the Philippines, none of which included seafarers. Countries such as Belgium, on the other hand, have declared that vaccines will be offered to seafarers from any nationality. Despite the seemingly positive news for Belgium, other issues arise as crew members are now being required to have vaccine passports. This has caused crew members to stay on board for longer periods of time as they are unable to disembark from vessels that they embarked months prior to arriving at a port where they were asked to be fully vaccinated. According to the International Maritime Employers’ Council Chief Executive Francesco Gargiulo, he stated that “The industry cannot afford to exclude even more people from an already undersupplied market.”
G7 Countries were used to estimate the average vaccination rate of developed countries versus countries that supply most of the world’s seafarers. These countries include Japan, Germany, and the UK, which all have higher vaccination rates than the global average, amongst the countries demanding the most cargo and shipping transits. The Philippines and Indonesia, on the other hand, have between 9-11% of their population fully vaccinated and are amongst the countries that supply most of that demand.
The question that prevails in this situation is, what can shipping lines and crew manning agencies do to fix this? The solution must entail career promotions in the industry, enhancement of education and training programs, and new retention methods for employed seafarers. These existing conditions in the industry have also caused apprehension from crew members as they are hesitant to sign one-month terms that could last up to a year if vessels go through quarantine or remain at sea after ports shut down.
Economic complications of these shortages additionally include ramifications for end customers. Increased shipping costs and higher price tags are amongst the visible impact that will reach buyers, and it all comes down to increased day rates for seafarers due to low supply of the workforce, and higher starting bonuses for these new hires as they are expected to take a leap of faith and sign with crew manning agencies.
Although the situation is not as detrimental as it was last year during the pandemic, this COVID-19 imbalance, low vaccination rates, and the new SARS-Cov2 Delta variant are serving as early warnings for the industry. These circumstances also impose pressure on reinsurers to increase their costs as the risk to work at sea is increasing exponentially throughout the pandemic.
We encourage crew members to get vaccinated. You can find the International Christian Maritime Authority’s list of countries supplying vaccines for seafarers here (https://icma.as/vaccines/), in order to slow down the exposure and existing risk in the maritime environment to COVID-19.