Maritime transport, which plays an essential role in globalization and is responsible for moving more than 80% of the world’s raw materials and goods, is suffering the effects of the pandemic due to both the economic slowdown and the lockdown measures imposed by most countries.
The measures taken in some countries require ships to undergo a 14-day quarantine before being allowed to dock, while other ports have simply closed down. Crew changes have also been banned, which has put personnel in a very difficult situation. Meanwhile, passenger transport has virtually stopped in many places.
This decline in activity has brought ship orders from shipowners to a halt and reduced shipyard activity.
On 19 March, Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), alerted governments to the risks associated with the decline in shipping: “In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and food, is central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic (…) I urge a practical and pragmatic approach, in these unusual times, to issues like crew changeovers, resupply, repairs, survey and certification and licensing of seafarers.”
On 24 March, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) sent an open letter to the governments of the G20 countries calling for increased protection of the supply chain to allow it to fulfil its essential mission for people and businesses.
On 25 March, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also called for supply chains and maritime traffic, including to landlocked countries, to be kept open and protected, since the global maritime transport industry is vital for people during these times of crisis. It also called for ports to accept crew changes, as around 100,000 crew members around the world need to change shift every month.
On 26 March, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said, “The free movement of goods and services is therefore our strongest, and frankly, our only asset to ensure supplies can go where they are needed most”.