Shipping industry has been hit severely by the restrictions enforced for the control of the pandemic. From the ship manager’s perspective, those can be separated in two major categories: Ships operation and Office operation.
With regards to ships, the challenges are identified in various aspects. First and foremost in the commercial employment of most types of vessels. Production has been hit very hard. Worldwide trade is halted, therefore shipping in its entirety is being crippled.
Additionally, the day-to-day operation of the vessels is another huge challenge that vessels are facing.
Even if the ship might be currently a very safe environment due to minimum physical interaction with the outside world, seafarers are the ones hit the most during this situation.
By only mentioning the catastrophic commercial effect that a case of COVID - 19 on board might have (quarantine of the vessel and crew, long off-hire periods etc.) and mainly focusing on the human factor, issues are still very important.
Crew changes have become almost impossible in most parts of the world, either due to local traveling restrictions, or due to seafarers' home country departure and arrival restrictions.
Shore leaves have been almost banned at the majority of worldwide ports. The combination of the above factors is leading to extreme mental stress and fatigue to the workers of the sea and, unfortunately, since we are still at the beginning of this pandemic, we are not yet aware of the possible consequences these conditions might have on crew members.
At the same time, supplying vessels is another obstacle the industry must overcome . From basic provisions for the survival of the crew, to stores and spare parts, the supply on board is either totally suspended or, in some cases, carried out in specific ports with extreme difficulties. It is a great challenge for operators to keep vessels running smoothly, without being able to provide them with essential spare parts and stores. Furthermore, superintendent engineers and workshops attendances on board are restricted to the absolute minimum resulting in huge disruption of the technical operation of the vessels,which in turn might even risk the seaworthiness of vessels.
Major repairs schedules have also been heavily affected and Drydocks had been postponed and retrofits had been pushed back, with major financial and commercial impacts.
Office operations have also been affected significantly. Even though shipping professionals have all been used to working remotely on one occasion or another- from home,from a hotel room, a ship, or a plane- it was only carried out for short periods of time.
The new Covid-19 normal has people working from home for several weeks in a row, accompanied by the uncertainty of when this will be over, the fear of getting sick, the lack of human interaction, as well as the difficulty of sharing home spaces with the rest of the family members under one roof.
Despite all the problems the current situation is causing to the business, it hides a lot of opportunities for improvement, innovation and future development. Technology can be our business’ greatest ally towards this transformation.
Today’s new needs together with the vision of pioneers can be the drive for our industry’s technological revolution. Many solutions have already been found, but the day-to-day execution and implementation is not yet universal. Remote operations and collaboration, tools for paperwork reduction on board and ashore , electronic certificates, Bills of lading, remote inspections on board vessels, cameras, use of telemetry, use of drones for goods delivery. All these tools are already available to us, they are proven to work and now is the time for them to be adapted by the industry in these difficult conditions we are called to face. We are in brave new waters and shipping can be resilient and evolve and survive.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
About the author
Mr. Alexandros Danousis DPA / HSEQ Manager at Eurobulk Ltd. Eurobulk Ltd was established in 1994 with the intention to engage in the management of ocean-going vessels. This company represents the continuation of the presence in Shipping of the Pittas family which started in the 1870's and survived two world wars before being expressed in partnerships with the Karoussis family in CHIOS NAVIGATION of London between 1960 - 1990 and with Petros Pappas in OCEANBULK MARITIME S.A. between 1991 - 1994.