Merchant Navy and COVID-19: Shipping Industry During The Coronavirus Pandemic

The outburst of Covid-19 as a global pandemic has blown away many economies and working sectors of the world. Many people lost their source of income, their home, earning a livelihood is tough and searching for a job is double. The challenge of facing recession is pondering over the international economy. And the Marine industry does not remain untouched with this havoc. There is a lot of hustle and bustle going on in this main chamber of economy. The results of the pandemic are that the workforce of the shipping industry has been completely shut down which is showing severe consequences on both ends. An industry which is responsible for about 90% of the international trade is slammed roughly because of closed ports and various other restrictions. 

BBC

Situation before the Pandemic

It is a fact well known that the Marine industry is one of the integral parts of any economy, because why not, most of the major trading activities are done by the ships. The revenue which is brought by them is immense and that is why there are a very few discrepancies in the work of the shipping industry. The major work of the Marine industry is to ferry cargo and passengers during peacetime. In times of war, the merchant navy can be supplementary to the navy and can be called upon to deliver battalions and allotments for the military. Different seafarers and officials of different departments work unanimously to carry out the functioning of a ship. Everything was going on perfectly smoothly till the pandemic struck. Now the industry has become sluggish and waiting eagerly for its next moves. 

The challenges faced by Seafarers, during these tough times

The plight of the seafarers cannot be ignored in this pandemic. From a common employee to an average seafarer, each individual is facing a different problem.

© N. Kalyanaraman for The Hindu

Because of the pandemic, the crew on board of the vessels were effectively quarantined onboard. They couldn’t get off, nor anyone could hop in. This measure was taken to curb in the spread of the coronavirus because less contact means less danger. 

The mental health of hundreds of seafarers deteriorated who were aboard ships across the globe during COVID-19. Major reasons for this were lack of adequate supplies of PPEs and safety training, as well as increased workload due to regular sanitization of ships and personal gear, left seafarers distressed. 

The delay in the repatriation of seafarers had adverse effects. When at sea, they work for about 10-12 hours, seven days a week, executing tasks that expect consistent professional vigilance. The typical duration which seafarers have to spend on the ship is about 4-6 months, spending extended periods onboard creates more risk of adverse health effects, including physical and mental health issues.

Delay in repatriation has not only affected the ones on board but also the ones who are on land for a long time now. Most seafarers have no source of income off the shore and spend their income earned by them on the ship. Now replacing the ones who are on land is a huge task. If they are not shifted on board safely then there will be a huge number of people unemployed. And if the merchant navy experiences unemployment then it will eventually strike the global market, where still the supply of essential commodities is taking place. According to one report, the pandemic has caused some 40,000 Indian crew serving on merchant and cruise ships to be stranded worldwide.

Problems in supply and demand of products, during the Pandemic

Credits – Hong Kong Maritime Hub

The demand and supply chain is the key to the world economy. You demand a product in your country and if they are not able to fulfill your requirement from within, then they will import that good. A simple mechanism. Now the role of ships comes into the scenario when there is a need to transport heavy goods from one corner of the world to another. And with new advancements in technology, these ships are able to transport tons of goods without adding any major bars in their cost. 

But the COVID-19 has hit the global trade on an unprecedented scale and speed.  The lockdown in different countries worldwide lighted its immediate effect on this supply and demand chain. Manufacturing companies and factories were slammed shut, decreasing the supply and increase in demand for essential goods and not other commodities, scarcity of manpower to de-stuff cargo as well as drivers to operate trucks for cargo evacuation derailed the trade and smooth functioning of the industry. These things eventually affected the marine industry. A decrease in demand implies a decrease in the number of ships for the maneuver of goods and services, which finally calls for fewer seafarers resulting in job loss. To curb all these things, this circle was completely disfigured during the lockdown but is again taking its shape with the unlock procedures going on in different countries.

Insight into more problems

It’s not just these major factors, which have held an adverse effect on the Shipping Industry. There also lies a bunch of other problems, which is usually being overlooked. But holds the potential, to passively affect the Shipping Industry.

Functioning affiliated matters

The lockdown for an interim period caused a subsequent delay in the orders as maximum ports were closed during this time. This had affected the time schedule of operation or the cargo itself. And the most vital issue came to the container operators as the schedule of both loading and/or emptying containers got delayed. 

•Renovates, Retrofits, Recycling

Ships that were already on the shore were probably affected as there were work restrictions on the land. This delayed the scheduled time and future contracts of the ship. 

Disagreements between charters and owners

Often charters hire the vessels from its owners to suit their functioning, but due to the extended time spent in the sea disputes are arising due to the hiring period and the loss of time and money pertaining to it. 

•Controversy on clauses

Every owner of the ship is supposed to add a directive or guideline regarding the infectious disease clause which is causing a dispute between the charter of the ships and the owner of the ships. Because both the parties want to add the clauses of their benefit which can ensure maximum before. 

•Insolvency

Because of less demand and supply in the market, many small companies that are engaged in the maritime and shipping industry are facing major fund problems. Their inability to handle their finances in these tough times have been all over them. This has eventually resulted in the shutting down of these small businesses. 

Merchant Navy, post Coronavirus Pandemic

The post-COVID-19 world economy expects more, not less, global trade cooperation. Global trade rules need to stimulate investment and trade. This whole scenario which revolves around the shipping industry during the coronavirus situation has resulted in a major setback of the maritime industry. And in terms of predicting a recovery in the future ahead, the points are quite fluctuating of proper outcomes. Entire maritime operations from shipyards to carriers of bulk commodities have been affected.

© humanrightsatsea.org

The maritime industry has always played a significant role in nourishing the global economy, conserving trade, creating jobs, connecting countries, businesses, and people, on a grade not feasible differently. The industry is experiencing a major financial crux and the cruising business is also boarding the same ship along with the maritime industry. One of the aftereffects of the pandemic could also be likely operational changes in the shipping industry. However, while the predictions for the recovery and future stability of the shipping industry seem rather slow and bleak, experts believe that the COVID crisis may act as a stimulus for digital and technological intervention in the industry, to make it more resilient to such alarms in the future. Digitization and technology innovation will splash a key role in resetting the dispersion network. Greater investment in intelligent freight technologies is needed to enable better tracking, monitoring, facilitation, integration, and information sharing. It is a demand of the situation to turn this crisis into an opportunity, and accelerating the growth of the maritime industry in paving a way for a cheaper, more efficient, and resilient industry.

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