Guidelines on seafarer vaccinations for COVID-19

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Chamber of Shipping has issued a series of guidelines on legal liability arising from seafarer  vaccinations that apply to yacht crew.

This Guidance issued by the International Chamber of Shipping addresses legal, liability and insurance issues that could potentially arise for shipowners from, or in connection with, seafarer vaccinations of crew for coronavirus (COVID-19). It considers questions that have been raised by members, such as:

  • Can a shipowner require crew to have COVID-19 vaccination?
  • What COVID-19 vaccines may be safely given?
  • Is the shipowner liable for the costs of vaccinating seafarers?
  • What might be the potential liabilities for shipowners in requiring crew vaccinations?

It provides guidance on best employment practice to protect against such liabilities and information on insurance cover for such liabilities under the shipowner’s standard Protection and Indemnity (P&I) insurance.

As  MLC 2006 does not include provisions for vaccinations and immunisations, the International Chamber of Shipping advises it is necessary to turn to national law, either of the flag State.


Can a shipowner require yacht crew to have the COVID-19 vaccination?

Employers have a duty to encourage employees to be vaccinated to protect themselves and everyone else at the workplace, but, under UK law, an employer cannot compel an employee to be vaccinated if they do not want to.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, if an employee refuses the vaccination, employers should consider the reasons given carefully and the response could entail implementing alternative solutions. Such measures might include providing for alternative duties, separate accommodation (where it is reasonably possible) and providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

If such accommodations are not possible, or the vessel is unable to operate safely, it may be open to the shipowner to remove an unvaccinated individual from the vessel, provided all contractual and other legal obligations to the individual are met.


What COVID-19 vaccines may be safely given for Coronavirus?

There are more than 50 COVID-19 vaccines to protect against Coronavirus, each at a different stage of testing and approval, as approval requirements vary by country. As yet there are no universally approved COVID-19 vaccines.

The safest option for shipowners, if they have contractual provisions requiring vaccination, is to include a provision in the contract of employment requiring all new onboarding seafarers to be vaccinated in accordance with the vaccine approved in their home country.

If the time comes when shipowners are able to supply vaccines directly to seafarers, they should ensure that any vaccine to be used has been approved by a relevant international or relevant national regulatory authority, the home state of the seafarer or the flag State.


Is the shipowner liable for the costs of vaccinating seafarers?

If a shipowner requires a seafarer to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or vaccination effectively becomes an occupational requirement for work at sea, then the shipowner would be liable for ensuring that a vaccine has been offered and at no cost to the seafarer. It is anticipated in this regard that a number of governments will be providing free vaccinations for their citizens.


Visit the International Chamber of Shipping website to download the latest Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for ship and yacht owners and seafarers/yacht crew at the links below:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Legal, Liability and Insurance Issues arising from Vaccination of Seafarers

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccination for Seafarers and Shipping Companies: A Practical Guide