Why dont we require visiting ship crew to be vaccinated?

The Government should require crews of ships visiting New Zealand to be fully vaccinated against the Covid virus, the Maritime Union suggests.

Union secretary Craig Harrison said as a maritime nation dependent on exports and trade we can’t close ports to vessels that pose a pandemic health risk to New Zealanders, but requiring crews to be vaccinated would be a protective step at the border.

Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins said in the “vast bulk” of cases, crews do not leave their ships.

New Zealand relied on shipping to import and export goods and strict safety protocols were in place for when ships entered New Zealand ports, he said.

“The Government encourages everyone to be vaccinated but we can’t force it on foreign crew on boats.

“We have one of the most protected borders in the world and continue to strengthen it including through an order to further encourage New Zealand ports and private companies at the border to vaccinate their workers,” Hipkins told the Herald.

The quarantining this month of three vessels whose crews were infected with Covid, some with the Delta variant, has again focused attention on border security gaps at ports.

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping line and a regular visitor to New Zealand ports, said vaccination-related travel restrictions for crew might be introduced in the future.

At the moment vaccination for the company’s 12,500 seafarers round the world was voluntary, but highly recommended, unless there were personal medical issues to consider, said Maersk Oceania spokeswoman My Therese Blank.

“To ensure the safety of everyone working on Maersk vessels, and considering that vaccination-related travel restrictions might be introduced in the future, Maersk recommends all seafarers to get vaccinated at the first chance they get, whether it is onboard or onshore.”

Maersk was not considering making vaccination compulsory for crew at the moment, she said.

“Guidance issues by various international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the International Chamber of Shipping have all supported keeping Covid-19 vaccination voluntary.

“It remains unclear whether shipowners can legally require seafarers to get a Covid-19 vaccination.”

Under the Government’s Covid-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order (no.2) 2020, with some exemptions foreign ships are not permitted to arrive in New Zealand.

Exemptions include a ship carrying New Zealand citizens, a cargo ship loading or unloading cargo, a fishing vessel unloading its catch, reprovisioning or refuelling, or both, or embarking or disembarking its crew.

Other exemptions are a foreign state ship that has been granted diplomatic clearance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and a ship given permission to arrive in New Zealand by the director general of health in accordance with the order.

One of the three quarantined vessels this month is a container ship, the other two foreign fishing vessels.

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