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Editor in chief: Angelo Scorza
23/03/20 10:29

The cry of the world shipping and port community

Joint open letters to United Nations agencies, Ministers, companies from the global maritime transport industry

By Angelo Scorza


During these dramatic days, the associations representing the maritime cluster has issued several official messages to the main world institutions.

A joint open letter to United Nations agencies has been written from the global maritime transport industry to ILO, IMO, UNCTAD and WHO.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold it is vital that all governments keep maritime trade moving by continuing to allow commercial ships access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the movement and rapid changeover of ships’ crews.

We are writing on behalf of the International Chamber Shipping (ICS), which represents the world’s national shipowners’ associations and over 80% of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which speaks on behalf of 2 million seafarers who operate the world’s internationally-trading commercial ships.

It is important for the world’s governments to fully understand that around 90% of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components – including vital medical supplies and many products sold in supermarkets, items that are necessary (due to complex supply chains) for the preservation of many jobs in manufacturing – without which modern society simply cannot function. In this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving;  this means keeping the world’s ports open for calls by visiting commercial ships, and facilitating crew changes and the movement of ships’ crews with as few obstacles as possible.

Every month, around 100,000 seafarers need to be changed over from the ships which they operate in order to comply with relevant international maritime regulations, governing safe working hours and crew welfare, so that they can continue to transport global trade safely.

We therefore wish to emphasise the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning.

In view of their vital role during the global pandemic, we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international ‘key workers’, such as airline crew and medical personnel.  As such, they should be afforded special consideration and, notwithstanding the need to comply with emergency health protocols, treated with pragmatism and understanding when seeking to travel to and from their ships.

We therefore call on your organisations to highlight the critical importance of this issue with the governments of your member states, and urge this topic be added to the agenda of appropriate high level meetings, and that national authorities in your organisations’ member states should be encouraged to engage immediately with their national shipowners’ association and national seafarers’ union, in order to find rapid solutions to this serious problem which otherwise risks impeding global efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic” says the letter signed by Guy Platten, Secretary General ICS and Stephen Cotton, General Secretary ITF.          

By its side, ECSA European Community Shipowners' Associations and ETF European Transport Federation have written to the Council to urge for the shipping industry regulatory measures and actions to prevent a total collapse of seaborne trade to and from the EU.

“The outbreak of the corona virus (COVID-19) has developed into a catastrophic event affecting many countries and its citizens around the globe. The European social partners in the maritime transport sector, ECSA and ETF express their compassion with all people being struck by the recent developments.

ECSA and ETF consider it crucial that the EU shipping industry remains able to perform its crucial function for the European economy and its citizens. 76% of EU’s external trade is moved by sea, and 32% of intra EU transport of goods. It has to be ensured that essential goods, energy, food, medicines and many other products from outside the EU can be delivered to EU’s internal market, citizens and vital industries in all Member States and be transported as smoothly as possible between EU Member States. Without this many supply chains would be severely impacted or come to a complete stagnation, making the economic impact of the crisis even bigger than already is the case.

Therefore ECSA and ETF call upon the EU institutions to support the industry and its workforce with the challenges they are facing. Special measures and actions have to be taken with the greatest urgency to ensure that the shipping industry can play its role in supporting the EU economy to the fullest extent possible.

We call for immediate action to reduce as much as possible the social, operational and economic impacts. Seafarers from all over the world are providing an essential contribution making sure that international supply chains to and from Europe continue to function. The measures being taken by Member States to restrict the movement of people, in order to minimise the infection risks, whilst understandable, are having serious consequences for the movement of seafarers.

Also the closure of ports is a relevant factor; workers, both at sea and onshore, are experiencing several issues which require immediate action.

Several measures and developments are severely impacting ships’ operations globally; there are difficulties in finding medical supplies and shortage of mechanic and electronic parts for vessels. Traffic by sea between specific locations has now been stopped completely. Operational restrictions have been put in place on port calls; there is a significant increase in the number of vessels out of service due to strong operational limitations, lack of cargo or unavailability of crew.

Direct economic impacts are being seen in all shipping segments.

Passenger shipping – cruises and ferries – are immediately hit due to more and more countries closing their borders or restricting travel.

Global shipping will decline due to the drop of global economic growth and thus seaborne trade. There will be reduced demand for tonnage especially in deep sea container and bulk. The significant reduction in oil prices is impacting the medium and long term viability of offshore ships, that just started to recover from the previous crisis, that started in September 2014. Therefore there is need for the Commission and Member States to provide financial assistance to the industry. In view of the vital importance of shipping and related services for the EU and its citizens, ECSA and ETF call on the European Commission and Member States to take decisive and assertive action in facilitating the supply chains and seafarer travel, providing much needed support to the industry and workforce” says the letter written by Martin Dorsman, ECSA Secretary General, and Livia Spera, ETF Acting General Secretary.

On the port sector, a joint press release has been issued by ETF, FEPORT, IDC and ESPO calling on workers and employers to strictly respect health and safety measures during COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this context of global emergency, port stakeholders and workers are on the frontline and play a key role in ensuring that essential goods are loaded and unloaded and that all shipments reach their final destinations.

Disastrous economic consequences of this pandemic are expected to hit port companies in the coming months. It is of utmost importance that those undertakings are economically supported to avoid disruptive effects on the logistics chains as well as job losses.

European ports are critical infrastructures of high importance for the Internal Market.

The above-mentioned organizations call on the European Commission to provide general guidance regarding health contingency measures to be applied in ports and to recommend to Member States to take all actions that are needed to preserve health and safety in the port sector including the necessary means for companies to ensure the safety and health of workers. It is of crucial importance in this difficult context that more stringent health and safety measures in all European ports are implemented to preserve workers’ health, to limit the spread of the virus and to avoid prolongation of this public-health crisis and its economic consequences.

We call on all port companies to ensure that such measures are effectively implemented and to provide all necessary means to protect employees in the workplaces: we call on all port workers to strictly respect health and safety measures that have been set to face this serious emergency” concludes the statement signed by Lamia Kerdjoudj-Belkaid, FEPORT; Berardina Tommasi, ETF; Anthony Tetard IDC; Isabelle Ryckbost, ESPO.