Monday, February 3, 2020

As Coronavirus Spreads a Look at How Shipping and Logistics is Dealing With It

Industry Steps Up to Face Latest Threat as Governments Criticised
Shipping News Feature

CHINA – WORLDWIDE – There is only one major story today in the mailboxes of the global shipping community, with Brexit now settling down to another war of attrition, the Coronavirus dominates the news, both within the logistics sector and beyond.

In transport departments across the world the questions are; How will the virus affect trade, how quickly can we expect it to spread and what can we do about it? And as usual there are those lining up to offer their opinions, analysis and advice.

First up to offer its view is BIMCO, whose correspondent admits, in a rapidly developing situation, that his analysis is probably just the first of many. With around 50 million people on lockdown in the PRC and a rising death toll now in the hundreds (and many saying that official figure is a low estimate) the Chinese Lunar New Year Holiday has been extended to the 10 February 2020 at least, essentially shutting down a large fraction of the Chinese economy.

BIMCO says that, given the rapid spread of the virus it seems likely that the shutdown could be extended even further, which is set to protract the seasonal slump for the shipping markets. Dry bulk shipping remains heavily reliant upon robust Chinese imports and a prolonged shutdown of the Chinese economy is set to bring a significant slowdown of industrial production, which will inevitably deepen the seasonal slump that the dry bulk sector is currently stuck in. IMO2020 is also taking its toll.

China’s import of crude oil products plays a pivotal role for tanker shipping. The virus has already taken its toll on domestic demand for oil products and anecdotal evidence suggests that Chinese refinery utilisation rates have been dropping over the past week, limiting the need for crude oil imports.

Meanwhile liner shipping is dependent upon external demand, which currently remains somewhat unaffected, but a slowdown of Chinese manufacturing, induced by the virus, could lead to reduced container exports from China. Major carriers have already started to blank more sailings and the trend is expected to persist if the virus continues to spread.

Bimco concludes medium-term implications are hard to forecast at such an early stage, but with past virus outbreaks the markets have typically rebounded in a matter of months. The outbreak of the coronavirus adds yet another layer of massive uncertainty to the shipping markets.

The BIMCO assessment is supported by freight forwarders such as Allseas Global Logistics which issued a statement confirming the situation is now causing disruption to shipments to and from mainland China with many of the major shipping and air lines suspending services due to port closures and lock-downs of movement in and out of the country.

Allseas says however that, at this current moment, the disruption is not currently affecting all areas of China, with some ports still accessible. Therefore shippers which are considering importing or exporting to China should stay in contact with their service provider.

Today the Chinese government reacted angrily at the refusal of the US to allow Chinese travellers to enter the country, a protest which rang hollow to many as Hong Kong, ostensibly under the control of the PRC, has also refused entry to many mainland visitors.

Many organisations are offering guidance, not least among these Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea), a registered UK charity which supports seafarers with pastoral and practical support. The charity comments on the publicised detention of thousands of passengers and crew on the cruise ship, the Costa Smeralda, the fifth largest cruise ship in the world in the port of Civitavecchia, near Rome, following a suspected corona virus case.

Meanwhile the virus has also been affecting seafarers on other vessels with six seafarers on a container ship falling ill during a voyage from China to Egypt, 2 days ago, raising concerns they have been affected too. A seafarer who arrived in Singapore from Wuhan on 20 January while not showing any symptoms during his flight, has been quarantined in a hospital having been diagnosed with the virus according to the media. The ship he was working on is at anchorage and is required to be disinfected.

Stella Maris is the largest ship welfare organisation in the world, each year visiting over 70,000 ships, and it is publicising advice to crews and shore based staff in its globally distributed magazine. CEO Martin Foley commented:

”The global nature of shipping means that any infectious disease is a risk for seafarers as they travel, we continue to visit ships and support seafarers but are making sure our teams are aware of this latest outbreak.”

Of course the nature of any such a threat brings offers of assistance in other forms, and two companies have been quick to point out different ways to help protect against infection. Bristol UK based DuoTech Holdings claims its bleach and alcohol free cleaning product DuoMax incorporates a blend of non-hazardous ingredients completely harmless to humans, plants, animals and surfaces and proven to destroy Coronavirus.

The product is already used extensively in its home country across the NHS, HM Prison Services, the rail and travel industry, and has been proven to destroy and help prevent spread of the Coronavirus having undergone extensive UKAS accredited laboratory testing to validate this claim. The company says it is urgently reaching out to the UK Government and the Chinese Authorities to provide vital support to those countries and communities affected by the virus.

Cyprus based Flow Water Technologies says it has seen a marked increase in interest in its FlowSafe DCD 2000 Disinfectant Unit following recent comments by the International Transport Worker’s Federation (ITF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) regarding the need for vigilance and maintenance of good hygiene practices. Shipowners, given previous experience with outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola, are already aware that a single crew member that is exposed to such a thing as coronavirus can lead to quarantine for an entire crew and vessel.

Launched last year, Flow Water DCD 2000 produces a safe-to-use sodium hydrochlorus solution that can be installed within a matter of hours on-board any type of vessel. The manufacturer says it not only ensures endless amounts of cleaning and disinfection control to clean and sanitise all the drinking water units along with unlimited quantities of liquid to clean the whole crew quarters of the vessel including the galley, but produces drinking water by way of a commercial level pre-filtration in front of specially selected ultra-filtration.

Not everybody however is putting such a positive spin on the spread of the disease. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) made some cutting comments at what it described as a 'gaping hole in the country’s biosecurity net' due to the failure to implement adequate checks on incoming vessels.

Merchant vessels are required to self-declare any quarantine or biosecurity threats before arrival into Australia. Unlike cruise ships, many don’t berth at major facilities and are only boarded by biosecurity agents after several other Australian workers have been in contact with the vessel and its crew. Merchant vessels are unlikely to have a doctor on board and the union says the accurate diagnosis of a virus like the coronavirus could be left to untrained seafarers. MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said:

“The MUA is urging the Federal Government and Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, whose portfolio covers biosecurity, to immediately act and address the deficiencies in a system that allows foreign vessels to trade in and out of Australian ports, with little more than an email as proof that the vessel and its crew comply with biosecurity protocols.

“We need to know who is verifying that this is being done, what notifications are being given to ports prior to the vessels entry when there are suspected infections, what provisions are in place for the proper treatment of infected foreign seafarers, and what maritime and port workers can do to protect themselves against infection.”