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Responding to the challenges of COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought unprecedented disruption to the shipping industry, and requires a collective, solution-driven approach

Seafarer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Shutterstock

Due to its inherently global nature, shipping has been severely impacted by COVID-19. The pandemic raises particular issues for companies operating at sea, with many countries closing their borders and restricting port entry.

ICS has taken a leading role in the shipping industry response to COVID-19, liaising with all relevant international organisations, agencies and governments. In the first instance, ICS is committed to supporting its members and the wider maritime community in tackling the effects of the virus, providing up-to-date information, best practice guidance, and recommendations.

ICS and its industry partners are working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organizations to ensure that guidelines help limit the spread of the virus, while maintaining international trade

A humanitarian issue

Organising ships‘ crews has proved to be particularly challenging during the pandemic. Limitations on crew changes (the replacement of one crew with another) and quarantining have the potential to cause serious disruption to the flow of trade.
In order to ensure crew changes in as many ports as possible, ICS is collecting information on the ability of ships to conduct crew changes. This forms part of efforts to encourage governments to implement IMO’s Recommended Framework of Protocols for Ensuring Safe Ship Crew Changes and Travel during the pandemic (Circular Letter No.4204/Add.14 of 5 May 2020).

Seafarer welfare is another key issue. Three months after the outbreak, more than 200,000 seafarers were estimated stuck at sea, unable to be relieved of their duties. ICS, together with other shipping and industrial leaders, has urged the UN to act quickly to help crews, and persuade member states to assist these tired and mentally-stretched seafarers to return home.

A ‘roadmap’ was developed by ICS in coalition with industry and unions, leading to the issuance of a 12-step plan by IMO showing member states how to join or leave ship using appropriate exemptions.

Providing tailored industry guidance

ICS is working constantly to bring emerging issues such as this to the attention of the relevant international bodies, and work with partners to identify solutions and make recommendations. ICS represents shipowners at the weekly COVID19 Strategy Group call with, among others, the European Commission, IMO, ILO and WHO, and also holds twice weekly conferences with ICS members. Other issues being tackled include the plight of cruise industry workers, satellite access, and particular issues relating to ports and classification.

ICS has published a growing number of guidance documents together with other industry partners.

These include:

  • Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers, enabling shipping companies and seafarers to following the health advice provided by the United Nations agencies
  • Recommended framework for ensuring safe ship crew changes
  • Ship-to-shore and bunkering protocols to protect vessel and terminal/bunker personnel,
  • Guidance on Managing Ship and Seafarer Certificates during the Pandemic

Around 90% of all goods that people use around the world are transported by sea. It is therefore vital that shipping is able to continue as smoothly and safely as possible.