Shipping is now entering the second year of disruption caused by the COVID pandemic. A year ago I wrote this article looking at some of the early impacts on shipping. A few weeks later I was at the 2020 ShipInsight Conference in London, that was the last time I left my home office for any shipping industry related reason.
The last year has been a mix of Zoom and Team meetings, webinars and phone calls but not one face-to-face meeting. It has not been a pleasant time but then compared to the problems faced by seafarers and the frontline workers in ports, yards, repair centres and the other vital facilities it has been a cushy number.
There is as yet no firm indication of when the restrictions on travel and meetings will be lifted but the emergence of vaccines is bringing hope. But sadly it is also adding to the anger and anguish that the industry has felt because of the restrictions placed on our key workers. Despite all the please and protestations to allow crew changes to take place with only the safe minimum of precautions and the lip service paid to the idea by governments, almost nothing of any consequence has happened.
The plight of seafarers is still to be resolved but the fight is now moving to getting priority status in the vaccine queue for those involved in moving goods around the globe.
This week has seen calls from bodies around the globe from the ICS in London, from the British Ports Association, from ECSA and from officials in the US ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. At the latter two ports it seems that cases of COVID mean 700 dockworkers are absent every day. In the second week of January it seems 45 vessels were waiting to enter the port.
It is understandable that members of the public want governments to ensure that the priority for vaccines is given to health workers and vulnerable citizens but where should the priority come after that? Shopworkers, police and emergency services, hauliers, transport workers will be at the top of most peoples’ lists but for seafarers and port workers there are few to make the case.
Singapore is almost alone in recognising the importance of maritime transport with a commitment to offer vaccination to 10,000 maritime personnel by the end of this month.
We in the maritime press can pass on the pleas from industry bodies to the shipping community and report laudable actions taken by the few authorities such as Singapore but it takes more of an effort to spread the message outside of our own circle.
Over the last year, many of us have increased our use of social media to keep in touch with friends and family. On many of these sites there are common interest groups and news sources that pop up in our daily feed. Sometimes the talk is of the challenges of lockdowns and the hope offered by vaccinations. Some of us may have expressed an opinion or commented on others’ posts.
Maybe it is an opportunity for those of us from this industry to make the case for the forgotten heroes and spread the message that it is shipping that is keeping goods and food moving. The mainstream media may not want to help but there are hundreds of thousands of us that can at least speak out. Tell the world that shipping needs it shot in the arm too and if it doesn’t get it things may get worse not better.