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Shipping and ports: Navigating the new issues arising from COVID-19

The current crisis has highlighted the extent to which the economy we live in is global, and how with the economic strength of that trade comes weakness that we had perhaps not noticed before.

The weakness was highlighted by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation, in a recent statement, where he discussed the important role of shipping services and seafarers in delivering essential goods and the need to maintain the flow of trade while prioritising safety.

How then can steps be taken to ensure that the flow of commerce by sea is not unnecessarily disrupted and safety is preserved?

Chief Executive of the British Ports Association, Richard Ballantyne, has called on the Government to provide support for British port workers. It is, perhaps, surprising that more guidance for the industry has not been forthcoming from Government, when you consider that over 90% of our goods arrive by sea, underlining the importance of shipping and Britain’s ports in imports and the supply chain.

Calls were also made for PPE and testing to be made available for workers interacting with goods and people, as well as clarification on financial support for ports and associated businesses, in recognition of 115,000 people employed in the industry.

The UK Chamber of Shipping has been a vocal advocate for the shipping industry and, crucially, the health and welfare of the crews who man the ships that bring our goods. CEO Bob Sanguinetti and his team have been working hard to make sure the industry’s voice is heard and understood at the highest levels of Government. They are lobbying the Chancellor to offer the same support to shipowners and seafarers as shown to UK businesses and workers, recognising their special status in keeping the UK working.

The fact that the industry has that access is testament to the years of work put into building relationships with Government and fostering an understanding of its importance. The current crisis is presenting previously unencountered challenges. Indeed, we’ve been approached by shipping, ports and transport industry bodies, seeking clarity on the new legislation and guidance, including some existing inconsistencies, and how it affects their business, operations, employees and customers.

The identification of people who are key or essential workers is extended to those involved in the transport sector. But this is a public and personal health issue and not just a matter of statutory interpretation, so it’s about wrestling with the issues in the practical context of the business and finding responsible and workable solutions that fit within that context. For instance, contractual arrangements with customers will mean considering a number of factors: who is responsible for enforcement of restrictions; the use of vessels or premises and implementing social distancing requirements. Looking down the track, it appears that discussions about contracts and pricing in the different era into which we are moving will also call for advice as the sector moves forward again.

There is an increasing amount of electronic traffic and resources available; the most relevant and helpful for those operating in the shipping and ports sectors are:

· The UK Government’s dedicated page for guidance on COVID-19 in a maritime setting

· The UK Chamber of Shipping has a useful daily email service, plus guidance and its updates on working with the UK Government

· The British Ports Association’s COVID-19 hub for information and guidance

· Guidelines and guidance released by Health Protection Scotland for people entering via ports

· The UK Government’s hub for transport and travel advice

· The International Chamber of Shipping’s (ICS) guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers

https://www.ics-shipping.org/free-resources/covid-19
Source: UK Chamber of Shipping

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