In an open letter, two members of the Federal Maritime Commissioner have appealed to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to provide mariners and longshoremen with access to rapid COVID-19 testing and priority early vaccination.
“The maritime and port workforces have been and continue to be an underpublicized success story in keeping our Nation afloat during the economic dislocation caused by COVID-19.
If the maritime, port, and sealift workforces are infected, then our supply chain essentially will become infected,” wrote commissioners Carl W. Bentzel and Daniel B. Maffei. “It is imperative we ensure port operations and continuity of the labor workforce through the provision of protective health supplies, rapid testing supplies, and vaccination availability.”
The commissioners pointed to three COVID outbreaks at American seaports within the last month, affecting the ports of Charleston, Philadelphia and LA / Long Beach. These incidents affected the health of the workforce, and they required quarantine measures and threatened the regular movement of freight.
Congestion is already a major issue at America’s container ports, with demand for imported cargo driven up by PPE shipments, increased consumer shopping patterns and the arrival of the holiday shopping season.
According to the commissioners, this surge is set to continue through early 2021. Adding COVID-19 workforce disruption would exacerbate the existing capacity challenges facing major American ports. It would also add to the expected logistical difficulties of distributing early shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, which will require special procedures and priority handling in busy seaports.
“To minimize disruption to the supply chain at this precarious time, maritime and port labor must be a high-priority group for vaccination, once it is available. Finally, we want to acknowledge the challenges and the supreme importance of the industry’s efforts to keep us supplied during COVID-19,” wrote Bentzel and Maffei. “All the workers who report to work at shipping lines, railroads and trucking companies, longshore laborers and other maritime industry service providers are facing the daily challenges of COVID-19 while still getting the job done. They deserve our applause and thanks.”
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