Vaccinating seafarers across India against COVID-19

July 29, 2021
ISWAN Vaccination Drive 8b Mumbai

Since the beginning of June, ISWAN has been coordinating a vaccination drive for seafarers across India in response to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the deadly second wave of COVID-19 in India, the highly contagious virus infected a large number of people. The virus's wreaking havoc caused not only an increase in the number of people infected, but also a significant increase in deaths.

Due to high demand to get hospitalised for treatment, India's medical infrastructure crumbled, and the young people who had previously been spared succumbed to the deadly virus on a large scale. The virus that was previously restricted to urban areas had now made the rural population its prey.

Due to the nation-wide lockdown and travel ban imposed as a result of the deadly second wave, Indian seafarers were unable to join ships, while those onboard were concerned about their families back home. Embarking and disembarking ships also became a daunting task as there is always a risk of exposure while in transit.

On one chemical tanker, a third officer started to show symptoms within a week of joining. In no time, the entire crew got infected, the ship was made to divert in an emergency, and the whole compliment signed off. The ship was later sanitised, and a full new crew was signed on. This scenario not only puts the lives of the crew in danger, but also causes the owner to suffer a huge commercial loss due to off-hire.

In another case, a seafarer was onboard when he learned that his father had been hospitalised and was critically ill as a result of COVID-19. Sadly, the seafarer lost his father, while the other family members were also infected. It was emotionally challenging for the seafarer because he couldn't be with his family during the tragic time of need.

Low vaccination rates due to scarcity and a lack of awareness also aided the virus's spread. Mass vaccination appeared to be the only viable solution, as it would aid in outbreak containment and make it easier to join ships, as many countries require vaccination certificates upon arrival.

In order to help and lessen the hardships faced by seafarers, on 7th June 2021, ISWAN launched a ‘Vaccination Drive for Indian Seafarers’ in collaboration with Narayana Health and the Medica Group of Hospitals.

The vaccination drive, coordinated by ISWAN’s regional team in India, is facilitating the World Health Organization (WHO) approved Covishield vaccine for Indian seafarers on a priority basis in various cities around India.

Marking the start of the drive, the team was flooded with requests for the first and second doses of vaccine. ISWAN's team in India contacted each seafarer to confirm their availability and booked slots accordingly in their respective cities. In the meantime, the Government of India brought in new set of rules on the second vaccine for people travelling abroad, which caused a lot of confusion, especially among the seafarers.

ISWAN’s team received an overwhelming response from seafarers who were willing to travel hundreds of kilometres just to be vaccinated through ISWAN’s initiative. One such seafarer from Tamil Nadu (pictured below) needed an interstate special pass to cross the border to reach Karnataka (Bengaluru), and once vaccinated, he showered ISWAN with messages of appreciation and thanks. He said:

‘I am very grateful for providing this opportunity and great support'

Seafarer (pictured below)

Similar stories were received from seafarers who resided in the state of West Bengal and managed to obtain a travel pass to reach Kolkata even during a strict lockdown in the state. A seafarer couple from Bengaluru also contacted ISWAN for their first dose, and the team guided them and booked their appointment at Narayana Health Hospital.

There was a huge demand for vaccinations in Mumbai as a large number of seafarers reside in the city and surrounding areas. The regional team reserved their slots at Narayana Health Mumbai, and many seafarers defied heavy rains to get vaccinated on priority basis.

'It was a difficult task to get the vaccination but ISWAN team has made it possible’

Seafarer vaccinated through ISWAN
Seafarers receiving their first COVID-19 vaccination in Mumbai

ISWAN's regional team is also assisting seafarers with their second dose after a 28-day gap under the special category of international travellers, provided they have valid documents such as a company joining letter, passport, Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC), and proof of first dose. The Indian government's new rule has caused a lot of confusion initially, as there has been no clarity on how to get the documents validated and where these special doses will be available to travellers.

ISWAN has been guiding seafarers to obtain permission from government-approved authorities and informing them of the state-wise procedure for receiving this second dose under the special category. Since most seafarers are unaware of the procedure, the team is attempting to retrieve most of the information and sharing it via emails and calls after compilation. Regular updates on social media platforms by the team helped in reaching large number of seafarers and making them aware of the procedure to take the second vaccination dose.

‘Successfully got second dose! Thanks sir for your valuable response and help’

Seafarer (pictured below)

Seafarers who have been fully vaccinated can now board ships while adhering to all safety precautions. Even seafarers' families are beginning to feel more secure and are less concerned about their loved ones' wellbeing.

ISWAN's team is committed to vaccinating all eligible seafarers and easing the process of joining and crew change. So far, over 300 Indian seafarers have been vaccinated through ISWAN’s vaccination drive and over 600 have had their second dose after receiving guidance from ISWAN. This drive has been a success thanks to determination, continued efforts, and a generous grant from the Seafarers International Relief Fund.

If you are an Indian seafarer and still need your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you can register for a vaccination through ISWAN here. For guidance on how to secure your second vaccination, please e-mail or send a message to the ISWAN South Asia team via Facebook Messenger here.

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