Shipping industry’s resilience to COVID-19 disruption

Overview

BIMCO's position on "Shipping industry’s resilience to COVID-19 disruption " has been approved by the BIMCO Board of Directors.

Background

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that the shipping industry is vulnerable to disruption by differing actions by national authorities in relation to people’s movement in and between countries.

Identifying weak links in the current business model and mitigating or adapting actions to strengthen these weak links is a matter of priority.

Since nations embarked on uncoordinated lockdown actions throughout the world to combat the COVID-19 illness, the transport sector was an immediate collateral. Travelling was banned in and out of countries, and in many cases, people’s movement was also restricted at a national level. For shipping, this meant that the port interface had to be executed with care to avoid contact between crew and shore personnel. Nonetheless, seaborne trade continued to flow despite the challenges.

Road hauling was immediately recognised by many nations (if not all) as a sector in transport, which needed to enjoy preferential treatment. Border closures did not apply to trucks, and truck drivers were not subject to lockdown restrictions nor the need to quarantine. Truck drivers were given privileges - universally referred to as key worker status, and rightly so. The same harmonised approach as applied to road hauling should apply to shipping with the same privileges granted to seafarers as to truck drivers. Labelling seafarers as key workers is not enough.

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution, which calls on all governments to designate key worker status for seafarer and implement of agreed crew change protocols.

Seaborne trade depends not only on ships being able to call on ports. Continued trade by a ship is contingent on crew being able to be changed at the end of their contract periods onboard. Crew members are also dependent on the ability to travel between their home country and the port, where their ship is docked at the time of crew change. Medical assistance to injured or sick crew members in ports is another essential requirement to keep seaborne trade flowing.

As international travel is expected to be resumed as more and more people in the world are vaccinated against COVID-19, universal documentation of immunisation status becomes relevant. Work is underway by several organisations to develop smart applications to facilitate fraud free evidence for travellers. These initiatives are important for the shipping industry as well. 

The pandemic has shown that hardly any nation in the world recognises the basic humanitarian requirements of the seafarer necessary to keep the global trade flowing during an extended period of restrictions. The industry leverage at government level and with national health authorities is poor. Governments have not responded well to the shipping industry’s calls for urgent action.

This situation needs to change.

BIMCO’s position

  • Governments need to take immediate action to ensure crew changes can be undertaken in ports under their jurisdiction.
  • Seafarers should be granted internationally recognised privileges by convention to allow unhindered movement between their home and ship.
  • Seafarers should be given preferential status in the queue to receive COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Universally trusted documentation of vaccination status should be developed as a priority.
  • BIMCO recommends using the COVID-19 Crew Change Clause for Time Charter Parties designed to give owners the liberty to deviate for crew changes in certain specific situations, namely if restrictions relating to COVID-19 prevent crew changes in ports where the ship has been ordered to call or within the scheduled period of call.

 

Rasmus Nord Jorgensen
in Copenhagen, DK

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