Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Finally Some Ships Crews Go Home but Much More Still Needs to be Done by Governments

Latest Covid-19 Study Shows Increase in Activity for Personnel and Container Freight
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – It is hard to get too excited about the news that, finally, some ships crews are being changed, after months of many being stranded aboard their vessels with all the resultant hardships that has entailed. The release of the tenth WPSP-IAPH Covid-19 Port Economic Impact Barometer this week reveals 55% of ports of those surveyed reported no crew changes have taken place in week 27.

Despite calls from such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and a plethora of unions with maritime interests and vessel owners, many governments have proved lamentably slow in facilitating ways for the sailors to return home and fresh crews be taken onboard. In one third of the ports, a very limited number of crew changes have occurred (less than 5). Governments meet this week in London to address the growing crisis around crew changes at the same time as the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Summit. IAPH has voiced its backing for the International Chamber of Shipping’s call on all ships to sound their horns in support of all seafarers at 12 noon local time on 8 July.

When comparing regions, European ports show the best picture in terms of the crew change situation, although 6 out of 10 European ports only recorded less than a handful of crew changes in the past week. In North America, crew changes are at a very low level with 57% of ports indicating there have not been any crew changes in week 27. No crew changes have taken place in the 29 responding ports from Central and South America. Despite best efforts from ports, the above figures show the crew change situation remains very precarious, particularly in the Americas.

For some ports reporting in that that crew changes are permitted by health authorities and immigration offices, there are no regular/commercial international flights within close vicinity for completing the operation. In some cases seafarers have to hire cars or use alternatives to be able to connect back home. Others report the need for finding accommodation for crews to be housed during the obligatory quarantine period or whilst awaiting charter or regular flight connections. IAPH Managing Director Patrick Verhoeven commented :

“While these findings of our survey gives some hope about crew changes, more needs to be done, especially in countries where nationals need repatriating. The measures taken recently in some countries such as Singapore and the Philippines to help repatriate sea staff long overdue for leave are encouraging. Other IMO member states need to follow suit, allowing our port members to help get crew home and their replacements onboard.”

Other points made in the latest IAPH report include the fact that more ports are seeing a return to normal cargo throughput although the container trades continue to suffer from blank sailings. Major container ports in both Europe and North America report that the average moves per ultra large box ship per call have significantly increased, with some hubs reaching up to 10,000 TEU moves. This is creating peaks in both ship-to-ship operations and yard activity at the terminals and is starting to impact land-side operations, especially on truck arrivals and departures.

IAPH says some ports report that, with less calls but more heavily laden ships, it can take days to return back to a normal situation at the yard and gates, and lost movements of cargo are on the rise. The workforce in some ports is under increasing pressure as these peaks impact resources on some days, followed by several days off duty with no activity at all.

The problem is compounded as, despite improvements in cross border trucking as the situation eases, terminals are reporting a worsening situation overall for trucks entering and leaving ports in the last five weeks with a sharp increase in delays. Reported issues of concern include potential disruptions due to the need to isolate increased numbers of truck drivers testing positive, as well as the congestion problems due to essential road maintenance.

Road congestion is on the rise for ports located within city limits or within proximity of conurbations, where regular traffic has rapidly increased due to easing of lockdowns or the beginning of the tourist season in the Northern Hemisphere where use of public transport is being discouraged. Although cruise liner traffic has unsurprisingly been decimated by the pandemic, RoRo services are rapidly recovering with some ports seeing a 60% increase in calls, however with far fewer passengers than normal.