The coronavirus pandemic has affected industries throughout the globe – from the education sector all the way through to the travel industry.

Having shut down the world and forced millions upon millions of people to self-isolate inside, the outbreak has not only created widespread chaos but it has also brought with it the potential for an imminent global recession, the likes of which have never seen before.

In this article, we take a detailed look at how the virus has impacted the shipping industry in particular, highlighting the key dates and milestones encountered along the way. From guidelines being introduced to manage car ferry crews to reports being published citing financial losses, let’s get started.

January

As the first dozen cases of coronavirus started being recorded in Wuhan, China, the Chinese government began trying to keep tabs on the virus, looking at potential ways to contain it.

However, having registered 25 deaths and over 600 infections in less than a month, the virus was spreading too quickly and, in response, the Chinese Government decided to ban ships entering the Port of Wuhan.

Hearing this, the Singaporean government then started running temperature screening procedures at all of its port’s checkpoints and, upon hearing about Wuhan’s failure to contain the virus, several cruise liners decided to cancel their planned trips to China.

February

At the very start of February, an American cruise liner called the Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess was found to have a passenger who had tested positive for coronavirus. Entering into an extended period of quarantine, the virus spread rapidly around the ship and, within only a few days, it was shown to have the highest concentration of cases outside of China.

A week later, SeaIntelligence reported that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had caused container lines to suffer approximate financial losses between £240 million and £280 million each week due to decreased traffic. This contributed to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and World Health Organization (WHO) later releasing a joint statement for “health measures [to be] implemented in ways that minimise unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade”.

March

By the start of March, the coronavirus pandemic had spread to Europe and was affecting Italy especially badly. Faced with an ever-growing number of cases, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) responded to the chaos in Europe by releasing a set of guidelines offering advice on how to manage crews and implement health practices effectively.

By the middle of March, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, leading the IMO to announce its decision to shut down its London headquarters. Meanwhile, many important meetings around the globe were either cancelled or postponed to a later date, most notably including a review of proposals to help improve energy efficiency on ships.

A day after these announcements were made, the Italian government reported its intentions to convert a passenger ship into a floating hospital. This was designed to create more intensive care spaces within its hospitals, due to the overwhelming demand the country had faced in the prior weeks and months.

Just over a week later, the United Kingdom joined a number of other European countries in implementing a nationwide lockdown and closing all non-essential business. In response to this move, a joint statement was released by the UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Marine and Transport Workers encouraging the government to protect the rights of national seafarers during the pandemic. This stated:

“Our members must be empowered by the government to perform the shipping industry’s key role in keeping the UK supplied with food, medicine, fuel and equipment.”

April

Moving into April, the IMO called for seafarers and maritime personnel to be recognised as key workers, exempting them from any travel bans. In a letter to the world governments, the organisation cited how important it was to keep ports open and ensure the supply chain was supported throughout the pandemic.

A week later, following on from the IMO’s letter, the European Commission decided to launch a set of guidelines which supported governments with implementing countermeasures for the shipping industry. Highlighting the importance of seafarers on the economy and keeping the world’s supply chains open, the guidelines included ‘sanitary advice, recommendations for crew changes, disembarking, and repatriation for seafarers and passengers.

Final Thoughts…

As we’ve moved forward into the future months of the year, the impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic has started to die down a little.

However, there is still a long way to go and there now remains several uncertainties left to clear up, especially related to whether many cruise liners will be able to financially recover from the outbreak. Watch this space.

ARTICLE: Paperless Maritime Trade – the glass half-full: An open letter by Gadi Benmoshe