A new wave of challenges facing the global shipping industry

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By Nikos Gazelidis, Global Head Marine, ATPI

There’s no denying that the global Covid-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges, never seen before within the shipping industry. We’ve seen countries close their borders with little to no warning, significantly reduced air capacity and heightened costs, as well as a crew change crisis that left many seafarers stranded on ships.

In order to tackle these difficulties, leading companies within the marine industry have joined forces by signing the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change. ATPI Marine & Energy is one of those businesses, and we are working alongside industry associations and our clients to continue to push for meaningful change that accommodates the need for goods to move around the world, despite limits on international travel.

Recognising the shared responsibility within the sector, the Neptune Declaration is a worldwide call to action from shipping companies and associated organisations to end the unprecedented crew change crisis. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers from across the globe have been left to work aboard ships beyond the expiry of their initial contracts and are unable to be relieved due to border restrictions introduced since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

While we wait on government action to facilitate safe crew changes, marine companies have been taking things into their own hands with new, innovative approaches to crew travel. Of course, there are also frustrations and difficulties along the way as shipping businesses have tried to navigate how best to operate in these unpredictable times. It’s little wonder that our research amongst those working in the shipping sector found that crew changes are now significantly more time consuming and stressful compared to before the pandemic. But there are some emerging ways of working which have proven to be successful and are likely to last well into the future post-pandemic.

The disruption to international air travel is perhaps one of the greatest logistical hurdles faced over the last year. Despite international efforts to resolve the crisis, governments around the world continue to bring in travel bans and border restrictions in response to new strains of the Covid-19 virus, while vaccination efforts have yet to reach critical mass. However, these regulations and vaccination priorities do not take into consideration the harmonisation of measures that are needed to accommodate seafarers as critical workers.

The pandemic has caused a reduced number of flights between traditional crew change hubs and major seafaring nations, and quotas on the number of international arrivals in some key cities have been enforced. During the height of the pandemic, ATPI Marine & Energy worked hand-in-hand with industry associations to operate charter flights to reduce the number of seafarers stranded at sea for long periods of time, outside of contract.

Uncertain times bring with them a greater need for planning to cover all possible outcomes. In shipping, businesses are tackling how crew rotations are carried out by planning for the use of ‘easy’ ports, for example, those destinations with more flexible Covid-19 protocols in place to allow seafarers to travel through and meet connecting flights after receiving negative test results. ATPI has been working closely with shipping companies to support these efforts; from delivering greater technology integration and proactive solutions to enhanced forward crew change logistics planning to flag challenges that, otherwise, may prevent a successful crew change in the future.

Crew change costs have increased significantly over the course of the pandemic. In the following months, and until vaccination enhancement and distribution in the developing world reaches acceptable levels, acknowledging and preparing for these added expenses – such as quarantine holding and testing requirements – are  essential elements to any travel management plan. ATPI has been assisting shipping clients with ways to provide precise instructions on restrictions and mitigate some of these cost escalations through enhanced crew change port scenario planning.

Despite collective efforts within the shipping industry to overcome the crew change crisis, there is little that can be done without the backing of governments around the world. Organisations within the shipping industry, airlines, science and technology companies have tackled many of these issues head-on with the development of new skills and innovative approaches to crew changes. These developments have ensured that the frontline workers of the maritime industry can continue to work safely and securely, to maintain the global flow of goods that the world depends on.

While shipping companies are managing to overcome a range of hurdles, there is still much work to be done. ATPI Marine & Energy is just one of the businesses continuing to push for change in this area on behalf of our shipping clients. With crew changes reportedly being twice as stressful and time consuming as pre-pandemic, the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change is a critical step in working towards overcoming this next set of challenges.

Read more comments from Nikos in our Crew Travel Round Table Debate, sponsored by Marine Tours, in the March/April issue of SMI, coming soon.