SINGAPORE – Vaccination of foreign seafarers at Singapore ports will use a separate pool of vaccines outside of the national stockpile, and may include types of vaccines that are not currently part of the national program, the Minister of State for Transport said Chee Hong Tat.
This comes in response to calls from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for seaports around the world to make vaccination of seacrew, many of whom are not their citizens, a priority.
IMO or the shipping industry will need to secure vaccines for seafarers, Chee said at the opening of the International Chamber of Shipping Leadership Insights series on Wednesday (July 7th).
Singapore will then vaccinate them according to safe and strict procedures, developed here by the Singapore Shipping Association, the port operator, shipping unions and the Singapore Maritime and Port Authority.
Maritime stakeholders in Singapore are currently developing the protocols, added Chee.
“As a global hub and international maritime center, Singapore strongly supports this initiative. It is essential that we continue to balance the risks to public health and vaccinate the crew,” he said.
Vaccination of maritime crews strengthens the resilience of global supply lines, including to Singapore, by reducing the rate of infection among seacrews often locked for months in the same vessel.
It also reduces the health risks to Singapore port workers and shore personnel, who could, if exposed to the virus, transmit the virus to the community, Chee said.
Singapore is one of the first countries in the world to prioritize the safety of seafarers amid Covid-19, for example by creating ‘safe corridor’ procedures for changing a ship’s crew here.
As of March of last year, 145,000 crew changes have been made here, with no infection spreading from the crew members to the community. The same “tried and tested” processes can be used to create a vaccination procedure for these crew members, Mr. Chee said.
Singapore, as a major maritime hub, has played its role in keeping global supply chains flowing before and in the midst of Covid-19, he said in his speech.
Port operator PSA has digitized its ports and platforms to streamline customs clearance and vessel maintenance processes, making freight transport faster and more efficient.
Following the blockade of the Suez Canal in March, PSA also successfully cleared 45 container ships bound for Singapore that were seriously overdue within 15 days.
In September 2019, when India banned the export of some perishable staples like onions, PSA found an optimized route to ship them from Southeast Europe instead. By doing so, goods could arrive in 23 days, compared to 51 days if the route had not been optimized.
“Without these time savings… the onions could have sprouted and become spring onions,” he said.
As the shipping industry focuses on the transportation of goods and not the movement of people, it has not been as badly affected as other transportation industries like aviation. Nonetheless, it has seen ship delays, traffic jams at major ports and an increase in freight rates, with many carriers now having to add new containers and vessels to meet the growing demand for shipping.
Container makers currently have their production facilities fully booked until at least August, and orders for new container ships in the first five months of this year have nearly doubled from 2019 and 2020 combined.
This makes efficiency rates at ports like Singapore particularly important.
Regarding another key hope for the shipping industry – switching to new carbon neutral fuels like ammonia and hydrogen to reduce the industry’s footprint – Mr Chee said Singapore has created a center for maritime decarbonisation and supported the introduction of a global carbon tax in the – longer term.
While it is not yet clear what the zero carbon shipping fuel of the future will be, Singapore supports the establishment of an International Maritime Research and Development Council and an IMO Maritime Research Fund, which will require a contribution of 2 USD by the parties for each tonne of fossil fuel used, he said.
“We need to take a long-term view in maritime and port operations. While we cannot be sure what the next major crisis will be, there is a longer term challenge that we know we will face, namely climate change and environmental sustainability of shipping ”, did he declare.
The shipping industry currently contributes around 2% of all global carbon dioxide emissions.
The IMO has set itself the goal of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 and reaching zero emissions as soon as possible this century.