The CEO of the ecumenical charity Liverpool Seafarers Centre has backed an appeal to the UK Government to actively offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all seafarers visiting British ports.
The request was made in a joint letter signed by Bob Sanguinetti, Chief Executive of trade group the UK Chamber of Shipping, and Mark Dickinson, general secretary of seafarer trade union Nautilus International, which represents 20,000 maritime professionals. (see notes to editors)
LSC said it backs moves for any nationality serving on ships visiting the UK to be entitled to vaccination here without needing to register with a GP.
Up to now, seafarer vaccinations in UK ports have been arranged at a regional level between local health authorities, shipping companies and seafarer welfare organisations including LSC, which supports around 50,000 seafarers passing through Merseyside’s ports each year.
LSC CEO John Wilson likened the approach to a “patchwork quilt” which lacks consistency.
“In Liverpool and its geographical area, the programme is working – but what we need is consistency throughout all health authorities and commissioning groups,” he said. “Locally, we do not have a problem, having forged relationships with key personnel in obtaining vaccinations for seafarers, but where we do have a concern is with them obtaining certification.”
Ships are usually crewed by people of a variety of nationalities, with a typical workforce potentially including Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Poles, Bulgarians, Croatians, Russians and Ukrainians. Even when they can return home after months at sea, vaccines are not always readily available in their home countries.
Wilson explained that as seafarers are not NHS-registered, they cannot use the official NHS COVID-19 App – and therefore cannot access official confirmation that they’ve had the vaccine.
“All they have at the moment is the card that they’re given at the point of vaccination confirming administration of the vaccine, the manufacturer, the batch number and the date that it was given. These are handwritten – I could have picked up one of these cards anywhere and written it up myself.
“For them to be able to satisfy regulation in their home country and prove that they’ve had the vaccine, they need a formal certificate, hard copy or digital.
“It will also be of benefit if we can return to the original four-week window between doses – this was subsequently extended to 12 weeks and is now at eight.”
He added: “I took a group of seafarers to receive their first vaccinations this week and, when I picked them up, they were standing outside in the sunshine – and told me they were ‘elated’ to finally receive the vaccine.”
Notes to editors
Nautilus and the UK Chamber of Shipping have written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Health Secretary Sajid Javid. They are calling on the Department of Health and Social Care to publish a seafarer vaccination policy as soon as possible to ensure a consistent approach to seafarer vaccination in all ports – as seen in programmes held in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States. The letters also request that the interval between vaccines for seafarers be reduced where possible owing to the unpredictable timing between port visits.
• Liverpool Seafarers Centre, which won the Positive Impact Award at the Mersey Maritime Industry Awards 2020 in March, helps 50,000 seafarers each year visiting Merseyside ports. It is a partnership between Apostleship of the Sea (Liverpool) and The Mersey Mission to Seafarers. In September 2019, LSC was awarded the world’s best seafarer centre at the International Seafarer Welfare Awards (ISWAN) as nominated and voted for by mariners themselves. The charity’s work involves visiting vessels to integrate with the crew, offering a listening ear to help combat isolation and loneliness and providing places ashore for seafarers to relax away from their working environment.
• LSC is funded by donations from the churches, we well as general donations and a new port levy on shipping lines.
• LSC is headquartered at Colonsay House in Crosby and opened a new centre in Eastham on Wirral opened in 2017.
• Corporate supporters of LSC include: Essar’s Stanlow oil refinery in Ellesmere Port, Peel Ports, the Merchant Navy Welfare Board, the Mersey River Pilots, Mersey Maritime, Polaris Media Management, the Voluntary Aid Club and The Phoebe Wortley Charitable Trust.