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'COVID-Normal' shipping and trade – an Australian perspective

  • Market Insight 26 November 2020 26 November 2020
  • Asia Pacific

In Q1 of 2020, whilst the world was coming to grips with the rapid spread of COVID-19, the accompanying health crises and governments stumbling from one restrictive measure to another in an attempt to lock down societies and slow the spread of the virus, the movement of essential goods and supplies had to continue. Aside from food and other essential goods, urgent medical supplies and equipment simply had to be delivered to the market.

Thankfully, shipowners and operators, seafarers, stevedores, ports and terminals, and all other participants in the broader supply chain were up to the task and notwithstanding all of the challenges posed by the first pandemic in almost a hundred years, supply chains remained open. Innovative and practical ways had to be found to deal with the new challenges, including new laws and regulations being imposed within a short and on an urgent basis.   These industries and businesses, which on any normal day have to overcome issues ranging from political road blocks to environmental forces, have now had to find ways to keep ships moving and trade flowing in the face of an invisible and uncompromising adversary. Extraordinary efforts, in particular, by seafarers, ensured that our blue highways remained open so that the trade and supply of goods and commodities, essential to the combat of COVID-19, was able to continue.  

In Australia, beholden to a large extent on other nations for most of its manufacturing, it was simply not an option to stop the import of goods and export of commodities, which remains the lifeblood of the Australian economy. As borders were being closed practical solutions had to be found to keep the shipping lanes open, ports operating and supply chains functioning.  It required an industry that is already subject to a mature and robust OHS&E regime to call on their employees' entrepreneurial spirit and extraordinary resolve to meet head-on the challenges posed by COVID-19. In a 'COVID-Normal' Australia, this resilience will be key to our economic recovery.

As we near the Q4 of 2020, the realisation has set in that there will be no quick fix and that COVID-19, even with numerous vaccines showing promising results, is now part of our everyday lives and is something we will have to learn to live with. In this 'COVID-Normal' world, we will continue to rely heavily on shipping and trade to drive economic recovery that is now so crucial to everyone's wellbeing and survival, especially in developing countries. Fortunately, everyone  involved in shipping and the broader supply chain are used to operating in a volatile, high risk and highly regulated environment and COVID-19 has simply added another layer of complexity that they are well placed to deal with.

In the series of articles that we propose to publish over the following three weeks, we will examine some of the pandemic's ongoing impact on the shipping industry and key or areas of the broader supply chain, and how the added layer of COVID-19 is being managed and transformed in the "COVID-Normal" Australia.

We will examine the following topics in four separate articles:

1.Critical importance of seafarers' wellbeing – we will look at the impact of the pandemic on seafarers' wellbeing, as many have had to remain on board months after their contracts have come to an end as a result of border closures, travel restrictions and mandated quarantine. We will look at how COIVD-19 has affected the mental and physical health of seafarers; how this impacts safety in the workplace and issues that arise with compliance with the International Labour Standards of Seafarers and the various international conventions that have been adopted in Australia to protect seafarers. 

2.Cyber risks – we will explore the increasing and ever evolving threats of cyber-attacks on businesses and lessons learned from businesses whom have been the victims of cyber-attacks. We will also look at industry best practice to manage cyber risks and what can be done to manage and transfer cyber risks by way of insurance or agreement between parties.

3.Crisis management – we will consider broadly the impact of COVID-19 on crisis management. Old or known risks to shipping and the broader supply chain, such as collisions, fires and explosions, of course remain ongoing risks in this current environment and we will look at why and how emergency response plans could be updated to meet the numerous challenges posed by COVID-19.

4.Climate Change – we will look at the environmental issues faced by the shipping  industry in including the uptake of low sulphur fuel following IMO 2020, new IMO emissions targets for shipowners and the development and adoption of new or low emission technologies and how the costs and risk associated with these regulatory changes and new technology are managed and transferred between counterparts and consumers in a 'COVID-Normal' world.

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