ICS published as research investigating macro and micro-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the shipping industry.
ore specifically, the report assesses:
- The economic and regulatory responses to the pandemic, particularly those enacted by national governments.
- The impact of national public health policies, implemented to contain and mitigate COVID-19, on shipping labour markets and the supply chain.
- The effects of national policies on the international logistics network and the shipping industry, as well as on shipping’s longstanding commitment and contributions towards the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including in the context of global shipping employment.
- The devastating impact of the pandemic was unforeseen, but its potential effects were not entirely unexpected. The shipping industry had highlighted these in the previous decade, including through submissions to UN fora, following challenges faced by outbreaks on Ebola, Avian Flu and SARS.
Moreover, in September 2019, three months before COVID-19 was formally identified, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, a World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank initiative, raised concerns about the international community’s unpreparedness for a pandemic (GPMB 2019).
All these efforts represented missed opportunities to establish robust preparedness policies for pandemics and other health crises, to protect global society and industries, including global supply chains and transportation networks
From the shipping industry’s perspective, the pandemic highlighted how a healthy, highly skilled, and motivated workforce is needed to support the ever-increasing demand for goods and products transported by sea through a sophisticated supply chain network, which began to struggle at the peak of national restrictions to contain the outbreak. Two years of strain and pressure on seafarers have negatively impacted mental health and wellbeing.
At the peak of the pandemic, over 400,000 seafarers were stranded on board ships, as governments overlooked or neglected their crucial role and refused to prioritise them for vaccination, immigration, and travel purposes, whilst an equal number of seafarers could not join ships as planned, to work and support their families.
Some found themselves stranded at sea for over a year – far beyond their contractual terms, unable to disembark and cut off from physical contact with their loved ones. This was frequently referred to as a kind of governmentally induced forced labour (ITF 2020). It also had a major impact on their mental wellbeing.
Ensuring quality labour is the responsibility of employers, unions, national and international regulators. Due to the substandard treatment of seafarers, during the pandemic, the shipping industry is experiencing notable shortages in the workforce, which is expected to increase and place the supply chain under even greater strain.
- Stronger, long-term cooperation between industry and governments is required to address the increasing challenges and changes to maritime trade and labour markets, whilst national economies navigate towards recovery.
- Government-industry collaboration is essential to build back better.
- Competent national government ministries and agencies should collaborate with intergovernmental organisations and liaise more closely with industry, to improve the treatment of seafarers in the event of travel restrictions.
- Unless meaningful changes are implemented, the same issues will re-emerge.
- Covid-19 related restrictions significantly hindered the shipping industry’s ability to repatriate seafarers to their countries of residence and to effect crew changes, rendering hundreds of thousands of seafarers unable to leave their ships and having to serve onboard beyond their original contracts.
- Governmental action was globally diverse and uncoordinated. Some government policy responses to the pandemic failed to comply with key International Conventions, including the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) which address seafarers’ specific needs. In December 2020, the ILO concluded that governments breached seafarers’ rights during the pandemic.
- Governments failed to strike a balance between prioritising national health requirements of the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR), and those of the ILO MLC, designed to address the health and transit needs of seafarers, exposing them to greater risks.
- In order to put some structure in place it was left to the shipping industry partners to produce protocols. These protocols were then shared by the IMO and ILO with a wider audience including member states.
- Lack of appreciation for the strategic role of seafarers in facilitating world trade meant that they were not prioritised early enough for access to testing facilities and COVID-19 vaccinations. The nature of the global shipping industry requires better international coordination between international organisations, national governments, and other stakeholders to address similar crises in the future.
- National actions to contain and mitigate the effects of the pandemic negatively affected seafarers and international shipping, due to their impact on global supply chains and crewing. Some policies also affected the industry’s ability to fulfil its longstanding commitments to the UN SDGs with unintended consequences for the global economy.
- During a pandemic or similar crisis better global and cross-border level co-operation is required, underpinned by a coherent framework to address the specific nature of the role of seafarers. Adherence to International Conventions throughout this process is crucial.