Singapore supports global initiative to vaccinate foreign seafarers: Chee Hong Tat

The International Maritime Organisation or the shipping industry will have to secure the vaccines for foreign seafarers, said Mr Chee Hong Tat. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore's maritime sector will work with local and global stakeholders to vaccinate foreign seafarers, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat.

The vaccination at Singapore's ports will use a separate pool of vaccines outside the national stockpile, and could include vaccine types not currently under the national programme, he said.

This comes in response to the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) call for seaports around the world to make vaccinating sea crew members, many of whom are not their citizens, a priority.

The IMO or the shipping industry will have to secure the vaccines for ocean-going seafarers, Mr Chee said at the opening of the International Chamber of Shipping Leadership Insights series on Wednesday (July 7).

Singapore will then vaccinate them according to procedures that are safe and tight, developed here by Singapore's shipping association, port operator, maritime unions and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

Maritime stakeholders in Singapore are currently working out the protocols, Mr Chee added.

"As a global hub port and international maritime centre, Singapore strongly supports this initiative. It is key that we continue to balance public health risks and provide vaccination to the crew," he said.

Vaccinating sea crew strengthens the resilience of global supply lines, including to Singapore, by reducing the rate of infection among shipping crew often cooped up for months in the same vessel.

It also reduces the health risks for Singapore port workers and shore-based personnel, who could, if exposed to the virus, pass on the virus to the community, Mr Chee said.

Singapore is one of the first countries in the world to prioritise the safety of seafarers amid Covid-19 by, for instance, creating "safe corridor" procedures for the changing of a ship's crew here.

Since March last year, 145,000 crew changes have been done here, without any infection spreading from crew members to the community. The same "tried-and-tested" processes can be used in creating a vaccination procedure for these crew members, Mr Chee said.

Singapore, as a major maritime hub, has played its role to keep global supply chains flowing before and amid Covid-19, he said in his speech.

Port operator PSA has digitalised its ports and platforms to streamline processes of port clearance and vessel maintenance, making the transportation of goods faster and more efficient.

Following the Suez Canal blockage in March, PSA also successfully cleared 45 Singapore-bound container vessels that were badly behind schedule in 15 days.

In September 2019, when India banned the export of some perishable staple goods like onions, PSA found an optimised route to ship these from South-east Europe instead. By doing so, the goods could arrive in 23 days, down from 51 days if the route had not been optimised.

"Without these time savings... the onions could have sprouted and become spring onions," he quipped.

As the shipping industry focuses on the transport of cargo and not the movement of people, it has not been as badly affected as other transport industries like aviation. Nevertheless, it has experienced vessel delays, congestion at major ports and an increase in freight rates, with many carriers now having to add new containers and ships to meet the increased demand for sea transport.

Container manufacturers right now have their production facilities fully booked till at least August, and orders for new container ships in the first five months of this year were nearly double that of 2019 and 2020 combined.

This makes efficiency rates at ports like Singapore particularly important.

On another key hope of the shipping industry - the switch to new, carbon-neutral fuels like ammonia and hydrogen to reduce the industry's footprint - Mr Chee said Singapore has established a maritime decarbonisation centre and supports the introduction of a global carbon tax in the medium- to longer-term.

While it is not yet clear what the zero-carbon shipping fuel of the future will be, Singapore backs the setting up of an International Maritime Research and Development Board and an IMO Maritime Research Fund, which will mandate a US$2 contribution by parties for every tonne of fossil fuel used, he said.

"We must adopt a long-term view in shipping and port operations. While we cannot be certain what the next major crisis will be, there is one longer-term challenge we know we will have to face, that is climate change and the environmental sustainability of shipping," he said.

The shipping industry currently contributes about 2 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions.

The IMO has set a target to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050, and to achieve zero emissions as soon as possible within this century.

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