Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
On 1 April from Geneva the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that it was concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.
WMO’s Global Observing System serves as a backbone for all weather and climate services and products provided by the 193 WMO Member states and territories to their citizens. It provides observations on the state of the atmosphere and ocean surface from land-, marine- and space-based instruments. This data is used for the preparation of weather analyses, forecasts, advisories and warnings.
In the words of WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas: ‘National Meteorological and Hydrological Services continue to perform their essential 24/7 functions despite the severe challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic,” said. “We salute their dedication to protecting lives and property but we are mindful of the increasing constraints on capacity and resources.
‘The impacts of climate change and growing amount of weather-related disasters continue. The COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge, and may exacerbate multi-hazard risks at a single country level. Therefore it is essential that governments pay attention to their national early warning and weather observing capacities despite the COVID-19 crisis.’
Large parts of the observing system, for instance its satellite components and many ground-based observing networks, are either partly or fully automated. They are therefore expected to continue functioning without significant degradation for several weeks, in some cases even longer. But if the pandemic lasts more than a few weeks, then missing repair, maintenance and supply work, and missing redeployments will become of increasing concern.
Some parts of the observing system are already affected. Most notably the significant decrease in air traffic has had a clear impact. In-flight measurements of ambient temperature and wind speed and direction are a very important source of information for both weather prediction and climate monitoring.
Meteorological data from aircraft
Commercial airliners contribute to the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay programme (AMDAR), which uses onboard sensors, computers and communications systems to collect, process, format and transmit meteorological observations to ground stations via satellite or radio links.
In some parts of the world, in particular over Europe, the decrease in the number of measurements over the last couple of weeks has been dramatic (see chart below provided by EUMETNET). The countries affiliated with EUMETNET, a collaboration between the 31 national weather services in Europe, are currently discussing ways to boost the short-term capabilities of other parts of their observing networks in order to partly mitigate this loss of aircraft observations.
The AMDAR observing system has traditionally produced over 700 000 high-quality observations per day of air temperature and wind speed and direction, together with the required positional and temporal information, and with an increasing number of humidity and turbulence measurements being made.
In most developed countries, surface-based weather observations are now almost fully automated.
However, in many developing countries, the transition to automated observations is still in progress, and the meteorological community still relies on observations taken manually by weather observers and transmitted into the international networks for use in global weather and climate models.
WMO has seen a significant decrease in the availability of this type of manual observations over the last two weeks. Some of this may well be attributable to the current coronavirus situation, but it is not yet clear whether other factors may play a role as well. WMO is currently investigating this.
Lars Peter Riishojgaard, Director, Earth System Branch in WMO’s Infrastructure Department commented: ‘At the present time, the adverse impact of the loss of observations on the quality of weather forecast products is still expected to be relatively modest. However, as the decrease in availability of aircraft weather observations continues and expands, we may expect a gradual decrease in reliability of the forecasts.
‘The same is true if the decrease in surface-based weather observations continues, in particular if the COVID-19 outbreak starts to more widely impact the ability of observers to do their job in large parts of the developing world. WMO will continue to monitor the situation, and the organization is working with its Members to mitigate the impact as much as possible.
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.
These five ships are part of a group of 12 engaged in the humanitarian task of repatriating over 26,000 crew from the Carnival fleet and other companies, as well as personnel from entertainment centres ashore, who because of the coronavirus pandemic, have had their employment suddenly curtailed.
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
IFSMA* calls upon Governments to adopt the ‘Framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic’ without delay to allow ship owners and management companies to change over their dangerously tired crews.
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.
Concern at IFSMA
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.
Following concerns from the maritime industry, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a circular to all Member States, the UN and agencies and IGOs and NGOs in consultative status with IMO. This document concerned recommendations to Member States about measures to facilitate ship crew changes in seaports during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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).