January 21st 2021

The maritime unions and their allies continue to battle on a number of fronts to ensure merchant mariners get access to the Covid-19 vaccine in a timeframe that takes into account their importance to national security and the unique risk factors they are exposed to in the course of their work.

The CDC advisory committee that planned the roll-out placed mariners in priority phase 1c with 57 million “other essential workers in transportation and logistics” who are now scheduled to receive vaccinations after approximately 30 million other workers in Phase 1b.

Given mariners’ essential role in national security—the Department of Homeland Security has recognized maritime workers as part of “the critical infrastructure of the defense industrial base… and Covid-19 response”—the industry warns this is much farther down the list than should be the case.

In addition, maritime groups cite a number of factors that argue for priority treatment:

— Deep-sea mariners are at heightened risk of exposure to the virus given the time they spend at sea and in foreign countries.

— Mariners who sail offshore do not have access to comprehensive medical care at sea or in almost all foreign ports.

— Mariners are by definition a mobile workforce, which means that as they perform their essential jobs, they risk falling through the cracks—for weeks or even months—of state-administered vaccine programs.

Under the CDC’s risk-based approach, mariners rank high on three of four criteria taken into account in scheduling each group of essential workers: risk of acquiring infection, risk of negative societal impact and risk of transmitting to others.

“We are deeply concerned that the military and economic security of our nation may be at risk if the distribution of vaccines allows seafarers to fall between the cracks of federal and state efforts to distribute vaccines,” the presidents of eight US maritime unions wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to the leaders of the National Governors Association and the CDC.

“The industry has experienced and will continue to experience Covid-19 outbreaks aboard ship.”

“The close contact and risk of exposure aboard ship is exacerbated by the lack of medical care when mariners become infected while engaged in extended foreign voyages or when routinely denied shoreside access to medical care in foreign ports.”

“Professional medical care and hospital equipment is simply not available aboard merchant ships.”

“One infected crew member may readily infect the entire ship’s crew, most often with no medevac available and frequently with no port of refuge which will permit ill seafarers to disembark and seek medical care.”

The unions ask the CDC and governors to work together with US-flag employers and union health facilities to ensure states with major ports can make vaccines readily available to US seafarers.

They offered a list of union-operated and other participating health organizations in numerous locations that could facilitate the rollout process.

“The US Maritime Administration has the ability to support in this effort and a deep understanding of what is necessary,” they said.

The letter was signed by MM&P President Don Marcus, ARA President Kelly Anderson, SUP President Dave Connolly, AMO President Paul Doell, MFOW President Anthony Poplawski, SIU President Mike Sacco, IBU President Jay Ubelhart and MEBA President Adam Vokac.

USA Maritime, whose members include MM&P and MIRAID, has directed a similar request—in particular with regard to vessels in the Maritime Security Program and engaged in preference shipments of government-impelled cargo—to Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander, United States Transportation Command and Douglas Burnett, MARAD acting administrator and chief counsel

“We make this request to ensure that these American merchant mariners, who are an irreplaceable component of our nation’s defense sealift readiness capability, remain available to crew the vessels necessary to support American troops deployed overseas and to protect America’s economic and military security,” they wrote in a Jan. 19 letter.

“In addition, many of these mariners, already designated critical transportation infrastructure workers, enable US-flag ships and logistical supply lines to bring the medicine, PPE, food, energy and thousands of other supplies desperately needed by those suffering from COVID in the USA and around the world.”

“It is not an exaggeration to warn that the military and economic security of our nation will be at risk if the distribution of vaccines to seafarers is not handled in the most expeditious manner possible,” they warned.

“It is important to emphasize that when a crewmember tests positive for Covid-19 the vessel, depending on the jurisdiction, may be taken out of service and it, along with the entire crew, are placed into quarantine for an undetermined period of time.”

“The likely result is that the vessel’s cargo will not arrive at its destination when expected and when needed.”

“In the case of commercial cargo, this will have a detrimental impact on the domestic economy, American consumers and businesses.”

“In the case of military cargo, the impact will be even more severe, with the lives of American troops overseas endangered and the ability of the Department of Defense to protect the interests of the United States threatened.”

Links to each state’s health department vaccine rollout sites are posted on the bottom of the CDC vaccine website,

To access the list of states in the drop-down menu, scroll down to How Do I Get a Vaccine?