‘Please sir, do not forget us’: Stranded seafarers plead for COVID-19 vaccinations
Filipino seafarer Larry Pineda has a simple but passionate plea: “Please sir, do not forget us.”
Pineda is among hundreds of thousands of seafarers adrift in a world transfixed by the fear of the coronavirus pandemic and bound by strict government rules that trap them on their ships.
Filipino seafarer Larry Pineda.Credit:
The unvaccinated crew members are required to stay on board at most international ports. In Australia, they cannot leave to shop for essentials or even seek relaxation at Mission to Seafarers sites, which have games rooms, libraries, small shops and lounges.
“There is very much suffering among all seafarers,” Pineda says.
“Many are depressed because they cannot leave their ship and do not know when they will be able to go home to their families.
“I hope and pray for this small mercy – that a way can be found for all of us at sea to be vaccinated, so we may be safe.”
He speaks by phone from the bulk carrier MV Nikolas D, currently docked in the south-west Victorian port of Portland, loading 63,500 tonnes of canola for markets in Egypt and Belgium.
Vaccination against COVID-19, he believes, would mean restrictions on crew rotations could be eased, but he also wants dock workers in the world’s ports to feel comfortable loading and unloading ships alongside seafarers.
His plea follows a call this week from the wharfies’ union and a stevedoring company for all visiting seafarers to be tested for COVID-19.
But the state government says such a regime would be impractical.
As for vaccinations, almost all seafarers are foreign citizens restricted to their ships, often flying the flags of Panama or Liberia, meaning they fall outside government vaccination programs.
“I love my wife and my two children, and I want them to know I am safe when I come home,” Pineda says.
“On this ship, we are very, very careful.
“But we have been in Africa, India, Singapore, China and Indonesia, and soon we will leave for Egypt and Belgium, sailing for 42 days.
Neville Manson, manager of Mission to Seafarers at Portland, tries to buoy the spirits of visiting seafarers.Credit:Tony Wright
An article in the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter noted the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Chamber of Shipping had estimated late last year that about 400,000 seafarers were stuck on their ships because of COVID-19 quarantine measures imposed by governments.
The manager of the Mission to Seafarers at Portland, Neville Manson, tries to buoy the spirits of visiting seafarers by providing free comfort packs of toiletries, chocolates and beanies, but his mission relies entirely on donations and is stretched.
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