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Center for Marine Policy Studies: Cross-border personnel should be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccination program

2021-05-31

(Provided by the Center for Marine Policy Studies) At the end of March, the Chief Executive Officers of five specialized agencies of the United Nations issued a “Joint Statement on prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers and aircrew”. The Center for Marine Policy Studies (CMPS) of NSYSU suggests that besides seafarers and aircrew, the definition of cross-border personnel should extend to fishermen and Coast Guard personnel and that these people shall be prioritized in vaccination programs so as to prevent the spread of the epidemic beyond borders.

CMPS pointed out that on March 25 this year, the Chief Executive Officers of five specialized agencies of the United Nations concerning people’s international mobility, health, and welfare, namely International Maritime Organization (IMO), World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), issued a “Joint Statement on prioritization of COVID-19 vaccination for seafarers and aircrew”. The Statement reads: “The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered devastating consequences for human life and the global economy. Maritime and air transport are two essential activities that underpin global trade and mobility and are key to a sustainable socio-economic recovery.” However, “it is estimated that some 400,000 seafarers are stranded onboard commercial vessels, long past the expiry of their contracts and unable to be repatriated. A similar number of seafarers urgently need to join ships to replace them.” Their difficult situation enunciated in the Statement, not only impedes the functioning of maritime transport but also affects seafarers’ human rights and welfare.

The Statement also mentions that the total number of licensed aviation professionals, which include pilots, air traffic controllers, and licensed maintenance technicians, was nearly 900,000 in 2019. The application of stringent public health rules to the crew, including quarantine, has resulted in hindered connectivity, operational complexity, and significant cost. For shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross-border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated. Thus, the Statement calls upon countries to prioritize seafarers and aircrew in their COVID-19 vaccination programs.

Distinguished Professor Nien-Tsu Alfred Hu, Director of the Center for Marine Policy Studies, said that as far as Taiwan is concerned, while it has demonstrated excellent performance in epidemic control, maritime and air transport have not only been the lifeblood of this country's economy but also the cross-border professions bearing the highest risk, and the seafarers and aircrew due to their professions are faced with highest risks of being infected and at this point, they are the target groups that the United Nations system urges for prioritization in vaccination programs. However, he said that people who support Taiwan’s cross-border operations go beyond those mentioned. Professor Hu said that Taiwan’s fishing vessels continue to operate at sea to supply aquatic products for domestic needs and the Coast Guard continues to sail out or enforce the laws at ports to maintain national maritime legal order. Such people should also be prioritized for their protection.

Mr. Peng-Kuang Chu, a researcher of the CMPS and doctoral student at the Graduate Institute of Political Science of NSYSU said that in recent days, the local spread of the epidemic has soared and the main initial communicators and victims may be a group of aviation industry employees who are still taking risks and operating across borders despite the global epidemic. The above-mentioned UN agencies have expressed support for the timely development of an internationally harmonized framework for vaccination certification to facilitate international travel of seafarers and aircrew. At the same time, WHO has established the Smart Vaccination Certificate Working Group to ensure that digitalized versions of vaccine certificates are interoperable. Chu suggested the Government follows the contents and spirit of the Joint Statement issued by the United Nations system and prioritize COVID-19 vaccination for cross borders personnel including aircrew members, seafarers, fishermen, and the Coast Guard so as to sustain the normal operation of maritime transport, aviation, fishing, and maritime law enforcement and to prevent the epidemic spreading beyond borders and help our nationals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

(Edited by Public Affairs Division)
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