Threats to Critical Global Ocean Supply Chains: Shipping During COVID-19

The ocean’s wide-ranging supply chains are responsible for the continued flow of vital goods, including food and medical supplies. With almost 90 per cent of global trade carried by vessels, shipping lies at the very core of the global logistical system. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is threatening to disrupt the flow of vital goods by sea. National measures and local restrictions in response to COVID-19 combined with reduced labour force-capacity in ports are making it increasingly challenging for ships to dock, load and disembark.

Ensuring the safe delivery of vital goods requires a vast and international ocean-based workforce. With the COVID-19 pandemic restricting movement and a dire lack of medical attention for workers, the physical and mental health of some 1.2 million seafarers is under enormous strain. Meanwhile, travel restrictions and grounded airplanes are making the monthly changeover of 150,000 crew members on ships virtually impossible.

This UN Global Compact Academy session explores challenges facing the global shipping industry in light of COVID-19 and provides expert recommendations including on supporting the safety and repatriation of seafarers to ensure the vital goods the world relies on continue to be delivered.

Speakers Include:
- Guy Platten, Secretary General, International Chamber of Shipping
- Sturla Henriksen, UN Global Compact Special Advisor Ocean
- Heike Deggim, Director of the Maritime Safety Division, International Maritime Organisation
- Patrick Verhoeven, Managing Director-Policy and Strategy, International Association of Ports and Harbors

What did we learn?

    • The global maritime industry is responsible for 90% of global trade, consisting of many actors ranging from ports and shipping companies to global regulatory bodies. Despite its crucial role in delivering global supply chains, it often remains "out of sight, out of mind."
    • Facilitating the regular changeover of seafarers remains the most urgent challenge. Grounded airplanes and national restrictions have resulted in some 150,000 seafarers unable to return home. After having been on board for several months, some without access to medical attention, this is becoming an increasing humanitarian and safety issue.
    • The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has issued a 12-step plan for how governments can facilitate crew changes and resolve safety concerns throughout the entire process. The plan was spearheaded by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), together with seafarer unions, the insurance sector, and industry associations, including airlines.
    • What emerged is the truly global nature of a problem that is currently only being addressed on a national basis A comprehensive, global approach to ensuring the continuing safe and efficient functioning of these ocean-related supply chains and its seafarers is needed; panelists called on national governments to recognise the important role of ocean supply chains and its workforce.
    • Opportunities are emerging to build back better and more resilient. The International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) points to the potential of smart port systems to lower industry emissions, while the IMO underlined continued commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in unprecedented collaboration and cooperation within the maritime industry itself, paving the way for future collaboration on a more resilient future.

    Recommended Resources:

    UN Global Compact Call to Action

    IMO recommended framework of protocols

    IMO COVID-19 materials and circular notes

    IAPH guidance on ports’ response to the pandemic

    ICS and ITF joint statement to G20 Leaders

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