Seafarers are displaced due to the country’s persistent vaccine shortage
Various reports cited shipping firms are tapping into Bangladesh and China for crew as the latter nationalities have access to vaccines. That places India at a severe disadvantage for seafarers eager to return to work.
Hard pressed for vaccines
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened up vaccinations to the country’s 930 million to 940 million adults in May. Government data showed the country administered 323.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. However many centres ran out and closed temporarily. In June, the Serum Institute of India increased its production. It aims to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine to at least 100 million in July, from 90 million in June and 65 million in May. Though it suggests the country’s situation is improving, India is still not out of the woods.
While a third of the population is vaccinated, Abdulgani Serang, General-Secretary of the National Union of Seafarers in India, is signalling the deteriorating seafarers’ sector. “Seafarers have been designated as essential workers, both nationally and in several other countries. That means the government should have been giving them vaccinations as priority, but it did not happen because of the severe vaccine shortage. Authorities were forced to postpone the jabs until they received stocks. Fortunately, the shortage situation has been sorted out earlier this month, and the pace of vaccination has improved dramatically,” Serang highlighted.
Currently, seafarers are said to be reduced to working in automobile workshops or other jobs offering a fraction of what they could have made onboard vessels – between $1,500 and $1,800. They are trained maritime professionals, trapped in their own country due to border restrictions and shift in employers’ preferences. It is not mandated to hire only vaccinated crew. Shipping firms however are not inclined to take their chances, and preferred vaccinated nationalities. Industry executives also said that crews coming from India were tested positive for COVID-19 onboard, despite observing quarantine norms and tested RT-PCR negative before boarding.