- A slow rollout of COVID-19 for seafarers risks worsening a worldwide shipping crisis.
- Infections on vessels are rising, which could further harm already strained global supply chains.
- Shipping experts warn of delays and a tightened labor pool leading up to Christmas.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for seafarers is proving problematic for the beleaguered shipping industry, according to experts.
When outbreaks occur on ships it can endanger marine works and cause further disruption to trade, Bloomberg reported.
Despite efforts to vaccinate seafarers in ports, most are still largely dependent on their home countries to be vaccinated – and more than half of the 1.6 million maritime workers globally come from developing countries such as India, the Philippines, or Indonesia, the outlet reported.
ICS estimates only 35,000-40,000 seafarers are vaccinated – 2.5% of the global pool of maritime workers.
“Supply chains are already stretched from a robust bounce back in consumer demand, semiconductor shortages, and shipping difficulties such as the Suez Canal blockage and Chinese port closures,” Tom Fairbairn, a shipping expert, told Insider.
According to the WHO, more than 80% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport. The global economy depends on the world’s two million seafarers who operate the global fleet of merchant ships.
Illness and economic hardship remain a serious problem for these workers amid the pandemic.
A new report by Thetius and sponsored by Inmarsat discussed the future of seafaring, as well as the current problems. It stated: “2020 showed the collective ineffectiveness of the entire shipping industry, including charities, corporates, unions, and even international bodies such as the IMO, to act as a voice for the needs of seafarers during a crisis.”
It added: “Governments around the world have repeatedly failed to act on the crew change crisis, which still exists at the time of writing.”
In May, a seafarer died and several medical workers in Indonesia were ill with the delta variant of COVID-19 after a ship with an infected Filipino crew docked in Central Java on April 25. Around the same time, the shipping industry endured more chaos after an outbreak at one of China’s busiest ports in the province of Guangdong triggered a backlog of shipments at four major ports.
Situations like this are worsening the existing worldwide shipping crisis, which has raised costs and led to shortages of many products, from chicken to semiconductors, as a result of the pandemic, Insider’s Rachel Premack reported.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which acts for shipowners said: “With this new delta strain, there’s no doubt it’s setting us back and the situation is getting worse. Demand for products isn’t letting up, crew changes aren’t happening fast enough and governments continue to stick their heads in the sand.”
The forecast growth in the world merchant fleet over the next decade, and its anticipated demand for seafarers, will likely continue the trend of a shortage in the supply of officers, according to the ICS.
This is why Fairbairn warns: “Those down the supply chain must be prepared for further disruption in the critical run-up to Christmas.”