As the world awaits the successful roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines with great anticipation, in the quest to turn the corner of the pandemic and its dreadful effect on everyone’s lives, the Malta Maritime Forum firmly believes that it is in the Islands’ strategic and economic interest for the local vaccination programme to give due priority to front-liners who work and serve in the various facets of the Maritime Industry. These include port and terminal workers, mooring-men, pilots, dockers, cargo hauliers and crew members on tug-boats, ferries, bunker barges, feeder vessels and the like. The work of these people places these people at risk due to their inevitable direct contact with counterparts in the same industry.
The Forum is fully appreciative of the challenges – both on a planning and logistical level – which the vaccination roll-out in itself brings along with it. Of course, the roll-out also brings with it difficult choices and prioritisation decisions for the authorities. However, the Forum believes that prioritisation for workers in the maritime industry is necessary not merely to safeguard the health and safety of these workers but also to ensure that certain essential services suffer no interruption whatsoever. Indeed, the maritime industry is a chain of inter-related activities and Malta may suffer shortages of food, medicine and other essential items if the chain is broken as a result of a crisis in a single activity link. Of course, as in any other specialised industry, human resources are scarce and any outbreak of COVID amongst crew with the need to quarantine could easily jeopardise the operation of that particular activity which would inevitably over-flow to other connected activities.
Moreover, in light of the importance of the maritime industry to Malta’s economy and the level of international business activity resulting from Malta’s contribution to the transport of people and goods at a regional level, the Forum deems it wise for the country to hedge against any unnecessary risk of further economic hardship and loss of jobs in the country.
For this reason, the Forum believes that the Maritime industry should not be overlooked and taken for granted yet again at this juncture. Prioritisation in the vaccination programme is further justified in recognition of the resilience of the Maltese maritime industry as well as the determination and hard work of the players and employees involved to ensure that despite the huge risks involved, the Maltese people continue to be served with the necessary everyday commodities through a seamless operation of the ports, shipping and ancillary logistics sectors.
By ensuring that the relevant workers receive their vaccination as soon as is practically possible, the authorities will be ensuring the continued provision of essential goods like food and medical supplies and that our ports could continue to handle all emergency and other essential services required during times of crisis and hopefully soon after, in periods of relative normality.