Like all the other industries around the world, maritime industries and world sea ports were also directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19, especially sectors like chemical tankers, passenger ships and cruise ships. On the other hand, the movement of cargo ships, bulk containers, Ro-ro cargo, general cargo and oil tankers also decreased significantly. Europe to China shipping routes and the United States to Europe shipping routes were also severely affected during the lockdown period.
The pandemic had the utmost impact on the passenger transport and cruise sector. There were difficulties with commercial ships but the trade was still running, but in the case of passenger transport and cruise business, no ships were operational. To maintain livelihood, cargo ships have been operational, slowly and strategically carrying out their businesses.
The Numbers Behind the Pandemic
Effects of COVID can be seen if we compare ship traffic of the same period from 2019. The ship traffic from Europe to China demonstrated a decrease of 40.3% and at the same time, the traffic between the US to Europe signalled a decrease of 38% and Europe to the US at the rate of 32.2%.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the shipping industry and world sea ports faced a 10% drop in worldwide trading. Additionally, the report presented by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) suggests that the maritime industry had to face a loss of 350 million per week.
This has also created a market imbalance among the industry and world sea ports. The result of which is the rising price for container transport, on average the container transport cost has increased from 1500 dollars to 5000 dollars in a couple of months. Now the demand for shipment transport is outweighing the supply.
Interruption during operations, world sea port closures, different lockdown protocols in different countries, shortage of crews, advanced protocols for reducing the infection have led to these huge losses. Also, China’s rapid recovery as well as continuing the business ahead of everyone else has created container shortage.
Disruption in Transport
The container problem mainly arose when ships returned from the west. Due to unexpected demand from China, it was profitable for traders to bring shipment from China to the West, but unloading became an issue because of quarantine period restrictions as well as the unavailability of regular staff. Reloading also became a problem because there wasn’t much profit while returning back from Europe and the United States. Therefore, there were a lot of ships that were stuck in the different World sea ports.
It is also to be noted that the sudden increase in online shopping also created a price surge because containers were not available due to the pandemic. The reduced port activity also caused storage problems for the shippers, due to health risks everybody had to go through the lockdown guidelines, which in turn slowed down the unloading process. And given that it took much time to unload shipments, only a few ships were available to meet the transport demands from world sea ports.
Meeting with Demands
To keep up with the demand and run smooth flow of shipments during this long term pandemic of COVID-19 key stakeholders of the maritime industry have created a set of responsive measures and risk reduction procedures. This set of operations include:
- Adjustments in operations
- Economic adjustments
- Prioritization of essential services
- Adjustments in organisational aspects and working practices
- Maintaining strict sanitary protocols and processes
- Advanced communication strategies and digitalization
Digitalization of the entire industry has been one of the most essential effects of COVID-19 in the maritime industry. During the pandemic period, sharing information through digital mediums was the key to continue the shipping business.
Port authorities and those who are indulged in the transport business need to be up to date with the new protocols and follow them to continue their business and trade.