Shipping and the pandemic, one year on

Shipping’s resilience has been tested and showcased like never before in the year since coronavirus was declared a pandemic.

It is testament to the sacrifice and hard work of the hundreds of thousands of men and women working many, many months beyond their contracts at sea that you and I have not experienced any noticeable drop in products in our daily shopping habits. The extraordinary strain placed on the world’s seafarers has taken its toll however in the 12 months since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic and borders shut down.

While frustratingly no official statistics exist, charities contacted by Splash suggest the number of suicides at sea has leapt during this protracted period at sea.

As and when this pandemic finally recedes Splash will be reminding shipping of its promises to relook at how these key workers are treated, how crew benefits need to be overhauled. It is the least us consumers can do to acknowledge and thank those who have helped us through this uniquely challenging period in modern history. Grand sounding declarations do not cut it – clear actions do.

Shoreside, shipping’s ability to keep things moving in the last year was both heartening, as well as not all that surprising. As an industry, shipping is more innovative than many give it credit for. Likewise, its historically long working hours helped keep ships moving around the globe. I’d argue too that the financial malaise that has shrouded shipping for most of the previous decade helped – this is a lean industry that has had to learn how to make ends meet. Twelve months on much of shipping – bar tankers – are enjoying rates they’d never have dreamt about this time last year. Let’s hope some of these profits are being set aside to build back better, including for staff at sea.

A glance at the headlines on the Daily Splash newsletter this time last year make for intriguing reading – we had stories on mega boxships being redeployed to the US to try and cope with an emerging empty container shortage problem; no change there then. We also reported on Greek shipping tycoon, Evangelos Marinakis, revealing he had been struck down by coronavirus. At the time he was one of just 89 Greeks to have been hit by the virus, a figure that today stands at 212,091.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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