PORTS Australia has issued a call for more Australian governments to “consider how they can contribute to increasing vaccination rates of international seafarers”.

Ports Australia pointed to Maritime Safety Queensland and QLD Health’s announcement that they would commence a trial program to vaccinate seafarers in the coming weeks.

In a statement, Ports Australia said seafarers by the hundreds of thousands have remained stranded onboard ships throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to the significantly hindered ability to conduct crew changeovers or take shore leave.

“While the situation is gradually improving locally and internationally, there are still vessels arriving in Australia with COVID-19 onboard meaning vaccination of seafarers must be a top priority to ensure their safety, the public’s safety, and continuity of trade,” the organisation said.

Ports Australia said it acknowledges the significant logistical challenges to vaccinating masses of seafarers who visit Australian ports, however there are still steps which can be made to progress this effort.

The organisation said there are several steps critical to the success of this effort, including:

  • Identifying vessels which are regular visitors to Australian ports and are therefore easy targets for vaccinating crew onboard. This approach has already seen success at Port Botany where NSW Ports and NSW Health collaborated to identify a number of frequently visiting gas carrier vessels before vaccinating the crew onboard over a series of weeks and months.
  • Prioritising portions of the shipping industry which are critical to Australian livelihood (fuel supply for example). This action will highlight where government must look first when building our roadmap to vaccinating seafarers visiting Australia.
  • Building a database which collates vaccinations of seafarers visiting Australian ports. This can be achieved by the Federal Government liaising with shipping lines and gathering data on where and when seafarers have been vaccinated, and what vaccine they were administered. This action will provide transparency for state and territory jurisdictions so they can identify opportunities for vaccinating seafarers prior to their arrival.

Ports Australia CEO Mike Gallacher commended the approach taken by Queensland and urged governments around Australia to act now.

“Importing and exporting goods across Australian borders is impossible without international seafarers. The nature of a seafarer’s work exposes them to parts of the world currently overwhelmed by the virus, meaning we will continue to have vessels turning up at Australian ports with COVID-19 cases on board,” Mr Gallacher said.

“According to media reports, scores of vaccines are being wasted after not ending up in Australians’ arms for myriad reasons, so why can’t they start going to our critical seafarers?”

“The Queensland approach is commendable and a worthwhile template for adaptation across Australia.

“Ports Australia does not suggest this is a simple feat but does believe that all levels of government and industry have a role to play in raising the vaccination rates of international seafarers who service our nation.”