Based at the Port of Liverpool, Liverpool Seafarers Centre offers support for ships crews from all over the world and is now urging the Government to offer COVID vaccines to seafarers. Tony McDonough reports
A charity in Liverpool that offers support to seafarers coming into the port from all over the world is backing a call to the Government to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to seafarers.
Liverpool Seafarers Centre (LSC), ecumenical charity, said it is supporting a push to allow all nationalities serving on ships visiting the UK to be entitled to vaccination here without needing to register with a GP.
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, 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 US.
The letters also request that the interval between vaccines for seafarers be reduced where possible owing to the unpredictable timing between port visits.
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.
On Saturday, LBN reported that Port of Liverpool operator Peel Ports had teamed up with the local NHS to offer vaccines to both workers at the port, including those from other companies, as well as seafarers.
LSC chief executive John Wilson likened the approach to a “patchwork quilt” which lacks consistency. He explained: “In Liverpool and its geographical area, the programme is working – but what we need is consistency throughout all health authorities and commissioning groups.
“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 often 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.
Mr Wilson added 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,” he said.
“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.”