This week the crew of container feeder vessel Bermuda Islander were vaccinated against the corona virus. This put them in an exceptional position. Seafarers being granted a preferential position in national vaccination programmes globally deployed against the pandemic is a rare occurrence. The exceptional position is attributable to the unique, essential function which the vessel fulfils. The Bermuda Islands depend on just three vessels for supplies, including MV Bermuda Islander. The safety of both the crew and the island’s population is thereby crucial.

The Bermuda Islander is a major beacon for the population of Bermuda, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, at approximately one thousand kilometers from the east coast of the United States. JR Shipping had the 350 TEU container feeder vessel built in 2001 by shipyard Bijlsma Lemmer BV. JR Shipping initially operated the vessel under the name MV Externo. In September 2007, the shipping company entered with this vessel into a long-term charter relationship with container operator BISL – Bermuda International Shipping Ltd. Since then, the vessel has been making regular trips between the east coast of the US and Bermuda harbour.

No doubts about the vaccination of JR Shipping’s crew members

After a long, mutually profitable charter relationship, BISL expressed a desire to acquire the 99.98 m long vessel. The transaction took place at the beginning 2015, with JR Shipping being asked by BISL to continue to conduct the vessels operational management. For this reason, the crew on board is under the responsibility of JR Shipping Group, which manages its crewing processes in close cooperation with Marlow Navigation with its offices in the Netherlands in Rhoon. Marlow informed the crew about and coached them on the vaccinations, which are on a voluntary basis. All crew members opted for the vaccine. The first team of five took their turn on January 14th, with the second team of four men following shortly afterwards. The vaccination used was from Pfizer. The second vaccination will follow within 21 days.

The initiative to vaccinate the crew early on was taken by the owner of the vessel that maintains the container line with the archipelago, BISL. The Bermuda authorities acknowledged the importance of vaccinating quickly and offered the desired exceptional position in the vaccination programme. Bermuda has the Covid-19 outbreak reasonably under control. According to the most recent figures (mid-January) the island group has counted 670 confirmed cases of corona leading to hospital admittance. Until today, 583 patients have recovered and there have been twelve deaths. Strong measures have been introduced to prevent further spreading. Besides an intensive testing policy, there are strict travel protocols. Persons travelling from the United Kingdom, which Bermuda is still formally part of, are subject to compulsory quarantine.

Safe and efficient work within manageable schedules

The Bermuda authorities do everything they can to keep new infections at bay. The early vaccination of the Bermuda Islander’s crew is part of their strategy. Jan Reier Arends, managing owner of the JR Shipping Group, says: “The fact that vaccinations could take place as quickly as they did is in the interests of the islands and the inhabitants, but also of the crew. The continuity and safety of the essential supplies is hereby ensured. The crew know they are corona-free and protected, and can therefore perform their work more efficiently within workable schedules.”

JR Shipping’s managing owner strongly hopes that the initiative in respect of the Bermuda Islander inspires other governments and stimulates them to reflect on the situation in which many seafarers are placed. Although he does not argue for a general priority, he does make a case for a serious place in the international ranking.

‘Everyone wants to go home to their families every now and then’

Arends: “All professional groups think of themselves as ‘essential’, but we are aware that our capacity has its limits. However, shipping is a crucial link in the worldwide transport chain. At present many seafarers are doing backbreaking shifts, seeing as they are not allowed off the vessels. I see it happening in our own fleet. There’s utmost commitment and everyone takes responsibility for his own health and safety, but there’s a limit to how far we can stretch. There comes a time for everyone that they want to go home, back to their family. Vaccinating makes this possible and we are obliged to facilitate that for our seafarers as soon as capacity permits.”

KVNR: ‘This is a hopeful sign’

The Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners [KVNR] agrees with Arends. Managing Director Annet Koster welcomes the vaccination. “We hope that more vessels and their crews will follow as soon as possible. As one of the major pillars in international transport, shipping is essential for continuity and soon, after corona, for the recovery of the global economy. We must not forget that 90% of all goods are transported over water. Seafarers fulfil a vital function and need to be able to do their work safely, without health risks for themselves and others. This is why we are constantly doing our utmost to put the vaccination of seafarers as high up on the agenda as possible. Although this case concerns an exceptional situation, it’s a hopeful sign.”

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