Since the beginning of 2020, the world community has been under an unprecedented crisis facing uncertainty due to COVID-19 pandemic with the potential of the virus to change the history books. This could not leave ship operations out of the collateral damage.
Shipping industry transports 90% of the goods worldwide and plays a key role in world’s economy, has already been affected. Certainly, the next months are going to be critical not only for shipping but the whole economy and trade. In this article, we present ten key issues that need to be considered by the maritime community amid this covid-19 outbreak.
Human related issues
#1 Crew sign on/off shore leave
Crew changes may be under significant delays due to travel restrictions in different countries. Problems may occur not only for seafarers travelling from specific countries of origin (e.g. a city of origin on lockdown) but also for all seafarers using as transit countries areas that have affected from the virus and also may be facing a possible quarantine upon arrival. As far as practicable, operators should try to avoid crew changes in affected countries and use direct flights to avoid additional restrictions in arrival countries. Shore leave is something to be considered, in the same context. In affected countries shore leave may be preferable to be suspended in order to avoid further implications of severe nature.
#2 Seafarer repatriation
Most of the above restrictions are applicable to this issue also. Challenges may occur in case a seafarer after disembarkation for repatriation is put to quarantine in the airport for any reason. Full assistance should be provided by local agents in order to ensure that these seafarers will finally depart for their home destination.
#3 Medical handling of suspect cases on board
This is one of the most difficult issues to face. Suspect cases on board should be treated in accordance with an effective covid-19 contingency plan. Medical chests on board are to be enriched with additional quantities of related medical items (Fever and pain medication, Sodium lactate solution, Alcohol-based hand rub, Chlorine, face masks, hand gloves etc). Isolation spaces are to be determined in order to keep the number of affected seafarers as much as lower it can be. Transferring cases ashore is also a challenge, as many countries may not accept affected seafarers or if the finally hospitalize them there will be additional fees for treatment.
#4 Ship Attendance for Certification and statutory purposes
This may be a significant challenge, especially with certification as there may be problems related to the transportation of personnel (e.g. superintendents, inspectors, vetting officers, class/club surveyors vising ships etc). A proper arrangement for all affected activities is to be scheduled (crew change, audits, inspections etc). When necessary a proper discussion should be in place with Class, Flag and other parties involved.
Operational related issues
#5 Cargo operations
There may be port/terminal issues as a port/terminal may be closed for operations and subsequently delays may occur. This may affect the time schedule of operation or the cargo itself (in case of cargo affected by environmental conditions).Probably the most important issues will occur to container operators, as the schedule of both loaded and/or empty containers is to be disturbed. Additional challenges may occur in case the operation is subject to human presence (eg stevedores, shore technicians ect), which increase the possibility of affection. Measures included in a covid-19 contingency plan to be implemented in case of presence of terminal personnel on board. For container managers a reschedule of initial operations may be effective in order to avoid delays or additional costs for re arranging containers on board.
In many cases also significant delays and/or quarantine has been effected due to the travel hisotyr of the ship over the last 15-30 days due to call in several high risk calls.
#6 Bunkering/de bunkering
Such operations are to be minimally affected by the ongoing situation, as there is no need to have face to face conduct in close distance during operation. The use of appropriate PPE during connecting/disconnecting the hoses and documentation handling between crew and bunker provider, should protect the spreading of any kind of disease.
#7 Stores, Supplies, Spares
All inspections and supplying procedures are focused, for the time being, on quantity and quality conformance of received items. As these items may be subject to infection, this may cause problems to ships. Additional issues may occur if the port facilities or store providers refuse to provide required items due to local trade restrictions due to virus affection counter measures. Again good planning and schedule in storing and supplying could be a solution. Therefore, operators should be informed about all restrictions prior engaging in such operations.
#8 Delays due to Pilot shortage/refusal to board
There are two aspects of this issue. One is the reduced number of pilots available due to virus infection and the other is the refusal of the pilot to board the vessel due to her previous port schedule (visiting ports in affected countries). Both issues are important and may cause delays or changes to ship’s schedule. However, operators during voyage planning stage should ensure through local agents that pilot will be available upon ship’s arrival and in accordance with port regulations. Additional delays due such causes should be documented for future use.
Ships already under repairs or within shipyards, will probably face problems due to work restrictions from shore side. This will lead to delays on scheduled times and future contracts of ship. Operators should obtain any kind of reassurance from shipyards (or recycling facilities) on time schedule and documented evidence that the delays are not caused by the ship side.
Financial Related Issues
#10 Insurance covers and claims due to delay
This is a totally unknown parameter. There are no premiums available in the market due to the sudden and uncertain nature of the outbreak and there can be no proper due diligence to predict what kind of challenges may be faced at any time due to the fast changing nature of the situation. This is also applicable to the clauses included in the relevant charter parties. Who will cover such expenses as in most cases when the ship is involved? Until now there aren’t any specific answers to such questions and uncertainty remains.
The shipping community has to rather sooner than later catch up with what is going on, as it seems that the virus outbreak is here to stay for the next forthcoming months. The actions put in place by any operator, charterer and any other stakeholder can make or break any organisation. We are at the beginning of the learning curve and have to observe patience!