AS vaccine roll-out accelerates, the time has come to recognise the economically vital work of maritime workers and ensure they receive their vaccinations as a matter of urgency. By doing so, we can help to protect their psychological and physical wellbeing, reunite them with their communities, and acknowledge their unwavering hard work in keeping our country going.

As a business with 160 years of history here in the North-East, we’ve seen our fair share of challenges. There is little, however, that can compete with Covid 19 in terms of the dramatic impact on all of us. The pandemic has affected our economy and society in ways we would have thought unimaginable a year ago.

But with testing improving immeasurably, and with vaccine roll-out accelerating, there is plenty to feel hopeful about.

It’s also been heartening to see how quickly Northern businesses, organisations and individuals have rallied to support those in need. From record food bank donations and support for NHS workers, to hardship funds and business grants made available by regional bodies, we should be proud of how our community has come together in difficult times.

However, throughout the pandemic, few people have been aware of the difficulties faced by vital workers you may not often see, but who are responsible for bringing essential supplies, food and medicine to the UK – seafarers.

As one of the world’s leading maritime insurers, born out of the North-East’s strong shipping legacy, we at North P&I Club are acutely aware of the pressure the coronavirus pandemic has placed on these crucial maritime workers. As worldwide lockdowns have led to travel and border restrictions, in many cases, repatriation of seafarers has been refused and medical attention ashore denied.

Crew changes have been hugely delayed, which means thousands of sailors remain separated from their families and loved ones, despite many having had no contact with the virus and posing no health risks.

This means that families – including many in the North-East – are going through unimaginable strain and haven’t seen their partner, parent or sibling for months on end.

This also poses a huge mental health risk to sea workers; life at sea can be difficult and stressful even in normal circumstances, but add in the upheaval of the global pandemic and lack of certainty around when they can return home, and it’s no surprise that many maritime workers are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety.

We are therefore calling for seafarers to be added to the list of key workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible. This will mean that maritime workers can not only be reunited with their families, but can then continue to work safely, thereby avoiding potential future restrictions being re-imposed on sea crews. Vaccination is not only vital for the wellbeing of maritime workers, but also to ensure that essential goods can continue to reach our shores.

Our country relies on seafarers to stock our supermarket shelves, refill our petrol pumps and supply essential medicines. The North-East is rightly proud of our shipping legacy, which is why we recognise the importance of a booming maritime sector in an increasingly global world.

Paul Jennings is the chief executive of North P&I Club, a mutual marine insurance company that was founded in Newcastle in 1860