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FMC commissioners want maritime workers on COVID-19 vaccine priority list

Maritime regulators warn of potential damage to US economy

Shipping through Port of Los Angeles under threat from COVID. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

Two high-ranking maritime officials are warning the Trump administration that the U.S. economy could be in danger if efforts are not made to prioritize COVID-19 testing and vaccines for maritime workers.

Carl Bentzel and Daniel Maffei, commissioners at the Federal Maritime Commission, said in a letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby that if priority is not provided to the workforce at U.S. ports, it could have immediate and long-term effects on supply chain fluidity.

The five-member FMC is responsible for overseeing the U.S. international container markets.

“A combination of congestion issues and the potential COVID-19 workforce disruption is an enormous risk to our economy,” the two FMC commissioners wrote.

Congestion issues related to cargo surges are causing unprecedented conditions in our national supply chain. The confluence of the ongoing need for PPE [personal protective equipment], unexpected changes in consumer shopping patterns due to the shutdowns and the upcoming holiday season has resulted in immense demand for imports. Industry experts believe these freight volume surges will continue into 2021. If the maritime, port and sealift workforces are infected, then our supply chain essentially will become infected,” they wrote.

There have been COVID-19 outbreaks within the last month in Los Angeles/Long Beach and Charleston, South Carolina – major U.S. container ports – as well as Philadelphia, which required quarantines that threatened freight movement through the ports, they noted.

“Also looming large is the ramping up for the transport of vaccines for COVID-19, which could begin as early as this month. The shipping industry is already setting up special procedures through ports, which are certain to add additional pressure in what has already been a complicated year for our supply chain and workforce. 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,” Bentzel and Maffei said.

Working in the maritime sector’s favor is the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) earlier this year deeming port, intermodal, trucking and other freight transportation workers as essential workers amid the pandemic.

In addition, the CDC revealed in a recent update that the agency is making COVID-19 vaccination recommendations based on input from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which will take CISA’s classification into account when the vaccine is ready for distribution.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.