SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Rotary Club of Savannah, Chatham County Health Department, Community Organized Relief Efforts (CORE), Viksniks Business Solutions and the Georgia Ports Authority have teamed up to start operation seafarer vaccination, an initiative to vaccinate thousands of people who have been working at sea since before the pandemic began.

“The seafarers have been greatly impacted in the past year. They have not been able to step ashore, they have not been allowed to go home. Many have been stuck on their ship for over a year,” said Capt. Lux Lakshman, CEO of Viksniks Business Solutions.

Capt. Lakshman is the brains behind the operation, organizing multiple ships per day whose crew members will receive a dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Since a vast majority of seafarers come from countries where COVID-19 vaccines aren’t readily available, this initiative is an opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

“We are so lucky because we are in United States. My country and many countries don’t have vaccines yet and are still waiting,” said Idris Karahan, Captain of the YASA Flamingo. “This is very important because now we don’t feel alone. Now we feel like somebody thinks about us, supports us and helps us. Last year we couldn’t go outside, some people for 14 months or 16 months or more.”

Over 4000 ships come through the Savannah shipping terminal each year, carrying an excess of 75,000 seafarers. Since most cargo ships arrive and depart from Savannah in less than 24 hours, the time window for vaccinations is very short.

“Many seafarers have not left for home in over a year because so many countries do not want unvaccinated seafarers to transit into their country, so it’s nice that we get to see smiles on their faces and they can now plan to go home back to their families,” added Capt. Lakshman.

Today, nearly 70 seafarers had the opportunity to be vaccinated. The goal by the end of the week is to start vaccinating 100 seafarers per day, in hopes of reaching 70% of the total crew members that will come through the terminal in the coming months.

According to Lakshman, the seafarers are some of the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The seafarers are a big part of the supply chain. People sitting at home during the pandemic for the past year have no idea how the goods they ordered on an e-commerce site got to their home, or how they are able to fill up the gas tank in their car. The seafarers were the ones who made that happen, and it is our moral obligation to help them here,” Capt. Lakshman said.

This initiative will continue for months to come, so long as the need is present.