Shipping Needs Unity Now, Collaboration Moving Forward
Merchant ships are moving the world’s food, medical supplies, energy and goods required to keep people alive and economies working as strongly as they can in these times. The onset of COVID-19 has of course devastated the global economy. But its impact on commercial shipping – particularly those who work the ships – has been tragic.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Maritime Employers Council (IMEC) estimated that 150,000 seafarers are currently trapped on ships and at sea. ICS add that there are 1.2 million seafarers on board 65,000 vessels globally. For the last two months, 150,000 crew members could not be changed in distant ports because of COVID-19.
The organizations also called on governments to designate sailors as essential personnel, as some seafarers have been at sea for months. Thousands of seafarers have had to stop working and are forced to remain at sea or are stranded on land. National travel restrictions and a lack of available flights are restricting their ability to return home. The physical and mental effects on crew have been increasing and significant. And we owe them our support.
Among the measures that governments must implement, are to address the issue of crew changes, designate professional seafarers as essential personnel, provide greater health screening, remove any immigration-related threats, provide immediate medical care – physical and mental – to incoming crews and to facilitate swift repatriations for docked sailors.
Once our crews are helped, and necessary support is provided during the pandemic, we must immediately look to the future of the global shipping industry. Because necessity is the mother of invention, the pandemic has shown us new ways that we can more safely and efficiently be doing business in shipping.
There are many examples of new and necessary practices, but among the changes we should permanently embrace in our industry are:
• Increased working from home options;
• Electronic issuance of flag and class certificates;
• Crew enrollments and registrations to be carried out electronically;
• Webcam surveys and issuance of the relative certificates online;
• Distant interviews, assessments, and appraisals of personnel.
Further innovations will be required to allow for crew replacements and the wellbeing of crews aboard ships. During the pandemic, ports are utilizing digital tools in greater numbers to allow crews to remain on board and minimize visitors on board, for the safety of both groups.
Some ports have installed digital systems to reduce administrative tasks and face-to-face contact when issuing work permits to contractors. Automatic gates for trucks at container terminals is another example of a positive operating procedure we should adopt in our new normalcy.
These types of tools should be adopted on a permanent basis after the threat of the virus subsides. Greater efficiency is always better economically and we are currently learning the benefits of fewer “touchpoints” in ports and on ships.
Predictions for Wet and Dry Bulk Sectors
The spread of the virus has globally affected both the markets and vessel operations significantly. The dry bulk sector – which was already experiencing a heavy recession – was affected the worst, bringing rates to a historical low. Although the market was affected, the demand is there, but suppressed, waiting for the next day.
It was a reminder that the supply-and-demand model is subject to logistics; moving forward we might more accurately think of the system as supply and logistics and demand.
Because demand suffered little, the dry bulk market should expect a strong upward trend within this summer. Provided that the vaccine is discovered and that the world will not face a repetition of what we have faced this winter, we can expect further improved trends during the winter months.
For the wet cargoes, recent low oil prices have led the market into a rally. This rally will not continue for a very long time, but the wet market will not be seriously affected by the effects of the virus.
The world will eventually return to some version of normal. While we can’t envision the details, what we can do it work together to make our current situation as palatable for everyone in our industry. Beyond that, we must pay special attention to the new ways we are doing business during the pandemic, collaborate about what we’ve learned, and join hands globally to move forward in the future.
We are all in this together, for sure. But if we are moving 90 percent of global trade, we better all be in it together moving forward as well.
By Victor Restis, President of Enterprises Shipping & Trading S.A., Arranged on Behalf of Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (www.hellenicshippingnews.com)