Key stakeholders throughout the international shipping industry are raising concerns about mounting pressures associated with traffic jams at ports, stranded crew members, and rising unemployment.
According to a recent report from the Financial Times, as many 400,000 shipping workers are currently stuck at sea or unemployed due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.
The issues are three-fold.
Due to pandemic-related standards regarding sea-faring vessels and their crews, some workers are not being allowed into ports of entry, or are being significantly delayed as they wait to unload their cargo. This extends the amount of time many are spending onboard ships, with the same delay taking place once they return home.
This is leading to slower change-outs of crews – simultaneously extending some crews and preventing fresh workers from taking over.
A lack of testing and clear legal parameters surrounding entry and exit visas — that allow these new crew members to operate in foreign waters — is also delaying things, making it tougher on those still onboard, as well those who desperately want to get back to work.
Last month, the International Maritime Organization published a 12-step protocol for safe crew changes, but the implementation process has been slow at best.
Fewer commercial air flights are also adding to the logistical challenge of getting crews where they need to be.
The global impact is obvious. Ships not being able to get a new crew are not going to be able to deliver anything on time – which leads to breaks in supply chains throughout all sectors of industrial production.
One example provided by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development shows that nearly 80% of world trade volume is provided by a global feel of 96,000 container ships, fuel tankers and dry bulk carriers.
The industry is calling for global leaders to institute “safe corridors” that would create passageways with less-restricted movements and designate merchant crews as essential workers that can travel with fewer restrictions.
Maritime rules state that merchant crew members are allowed to spend 11 months at sea, but many reports show a growing number approaching 15 months.