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Coronavirus: Let’s keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing

COVID-19 and transport

Coronavirus: Let’s keep ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing

Statement on 25 March by UNCTAD Secretary-General, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi

Note: There is a series of related links to be found at the foot of this article*

As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, the global maritime transport industry is playing a critical role in the response.

A call by the industry to all governments to keep maritime trade moving by allowing commercial ships continued access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the rapid changeover of ships’ crews should not go unheeded.

Around 80% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components, according to UNCTAD statistics.

This includes vital medical supplies, which are sorely needed at this time, and items that are necessary for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing – without which modern society cannot function.

In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and to allow maritime trade and cross-border transport to continue.

This means keeping the world’s ports open for ship calls and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.

Transit needs to be facilitated, too. Landlocked countries need access to food and medical supplies through neighbouring countries’ seaports.

Shipping and ports hold the world economy together. They connect countries, markets, businesses and people, on a scale not otherwise possible.

A vast array of goods and commodities are transported by sea to meet the demands of industrial and manufacturing sectors, energy needs, as well as business and consumer requirements.

These range from raw materials such as coal and iron ore, oil, gas carried as bulk, to manufactured goods of intermediate and finished products carried in containers.

Facing the current pandemic, cross-border movements of relief goods such as food and medical supplies will increase dramatically.

Restrictions on trade and cross-border transport may interrupt needed aid and technical support. It could disrupt businesses and have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.

Governments should therefore continue to facilitate movement of not only relief goods, but goods in general, to minimize the negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

To ensure that vital goods reach consumers and hospitals in destination countries, responsible agencies should coordinate and cooperate within and among countries so that indispensable goods reach the populations in coastal and landlocked countries alike.

At the extraordinary G20 Leaders Summit on the COVID-19 pandemic, which meets virtually this week, world leaders should embrace the call made by the shipping industry to keep maritime trade moving by allowing continued access to ports worldwide and the rapid changeover of ships’ crews.

Support seafarers and port operators, take measured steps

Amidst the current outbreak, seafarers have come under increased checks and scrutiny in various ports.

Many port states have imposed local regulations, travel and quarantine restrictions, precluding free access to seafarers. Some operators have suspended crew changes aboard ships to lessen their social interactions.

While observing necessary health protocols, ports should treat seafarers as key workers and afford them the same flexibilities currently given to aircrew and health workers in boarding and leaving ships, as some 100,000 shipping crew members need to change shift every month.

Port operators also need to be ready given the potential risks to public health and the economy, if their key role in the transit of goods is affected by the spread of the virus.

Port workers are facing the danger of contracting COVID-19, and many ports are not ready if a critical mass of workers become sick.

In several ports – especially in hard-hit regions like Europe – goods in transit are already affected, and essential medicine and equipment are being held up.

Without functioning ports, cargoes including those with life-saving supplies cannot be transported to where they are needed.

As they meet virtually this week (week commencing 22 March), G20 leaders have an important opportunity to protect the free movement of all goods by affirming the smooth functioning of their shipping, ports and transit industries.

All available technological trade and transport facilitation solutions should be used to reduce the burden posed by COVID-19 on maritime and cross-border trade.

We cannot afford to compound the health and economic challenge facing us.

*Readers may wish to be aware of the related links here:

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) : News, Analysis and Resources

See

here:https://unctad.org/en/Pages/coronavirus.aspx?utm_source=UNCTAD+Media+Contacts&utm_campaign=01911ecaef-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_10_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b47b7abd3-01911ecaef-64982193

  • Review of Maritime Transport (Series)

See here: https://unctad.org/en/Pages/Publications/Review-of-Maritime-Transport-(Series).aspx?utm_source=UNCTAD+Media+Contacts&utm_campaign=01911ecaef-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_10_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b47b7abd3-01911ecaef-64982193

  • Maritime Transport Statistics

See here: https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/ReportFolders/reportFolders.aspx?IF_ActivePath=P%2c11&utm_source=UNCTAD+Media+Contacts&utm_campaign=01911ecaef-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_10_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b47b7abd3-01911ecaef-64982193

  • Seafarer supply, quinquennial, 2015

See here:

https://unctadstat.unctad.org/wds/TableViewer/tableView.aspx?ReportId=157422&utm_source=UNCTAD+Media+Contacts&utm_campaign=01911ecaef-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_10_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b47b7abd3-01911ecaef-64982193

  • Transport and Trade Facilitation Newsletter

See here:

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DTL/TTL/Transport-Newsletter.aspx?utm_source=UNCTAD+Media+Contacts&utm_campaign=01911ecaef-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_03_25_10_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1b47b7abd3-01911ecaef-64982193

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Latest News & Events

Our picture shows a Carnival line up. Five Carnival ships are due in Durban in week commencing 24 May. (Photo: www.africaports.co.za )

No less than five Carnival Cruise ships are due to arrive in Durban between 26 and 28 May to take on bunkers and to restock depleted supplies.

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Hotel staff and entertainers

These are the entertainment staff, the onboard shop workers, beauty salon practitioners, waiters and bus boys, chefs and kitchen staff, cabin cleaners, pursers and front desk people all making up the staff working on board cruise ships.

With cruising curtailed these former employees are finally returning home to destinations like India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines after having remained on board their ships for more than two months, unable to go ashore or receive visitors ever since cruising operations were suspended in mid -March. Ahead they face another three or four weeks at sea before being allowed to disembark. However, there’s something of a problem.

Call to governments

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Governments must act now in order to avoid personal injury to, and mental breakdown of, seafarers and avoid the significant risk of accidents and consequential danger to life and the environment.

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IFSMA is receiving an increasing number of reports from its ship masters’ associations around the world concerned for the welfare and safety of crews and the increased risk with which they are operating in an already high risk environment.  Seafarers are feeling let down and abandoned by their Governments. 

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The IMO Secretary General has received a framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the pandemic, proposed by a cross-section of global industry associations in consultative status with the IMO, for example: ICS, IAPH, BIMCO, IFSMA, and P&I Clubs as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA).