February 10th 2021

The men and women who crew the ships in the US-flag fleet need priority access to the coronavirus vaccine, Jim Patti, president of the Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development, told members of Congress during a hearing this morning.

If not, he told a House subcommittee, “given the differences in vaccine administration procedures among the states, it may be months at the earliest before mariners receive a vaccine.”

Patti made the remarks in testimony on behalf of all the US maritime labor unions and shipping companies that belong to the USA Maritime coalition.

In particular, he noted:

— the heightened risks that seafarers face because they live and work closely together in multi-generational settings aboard ship; and

— the problems that mariners sailing internationally face in accessing shoreside medical care because of the restrictions that countries have put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus.

He also urged Congress to keep in mind the essential role played by the maritime workforce in America’s security and national defense.

“While we appreciate that there are many segments of the American workforce that need expedited access to the Covid-19 vaccine, “ he testified, “it is extremely important that American mariners and cadets working aboard Maritime Security Program vessels and other US-flag vessels in the foreign trades receive such access.”

Mariners who work internationally face a particularly elevated risk of contracting the virus, he noted, since they “are continually exposed to individuals in foreign ports who board their vessels [and] who do not follow necessary safety procedures and protocols.”

“If a crewmember tests positive for Covid-19,” he added, “depending on the jurisdiction, the vessel may be taken out of service and it, along with the entire crew, may be placed into quarantine for an undetermined period of time.”

“In the case of commercial cargo, including the delivery of essential medical and other supplies, this may have a detrimental impact on consumers and businesses and, most importantly, on the first responders and other essential workers relying on the delivery of medical supplies and equipment.”

“In the case of military cargo,” he added, “such disruptions raise the distinct possibility that the lives of American troops overseas may be affected and the ability of the Department of Defense to protect the interests of the United States threatened.”

He urged Congress and the administration to consider the unique risks faced by maritime workers in developing and implementing the national vaccine distribution plan.