COVID-19: Vital to have functioning shipping services

90 percent of goods across the world is transported by sea.  Maritime shipping, alongside trucks and railways, is the key pillar in the supply chain.  In times like this during the coronavirus outbreak, where panic buying is prevalent and medical supplies are desperately needed, it is even more important to keep shipping lanes smooth and ports efficient.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

In view of the challenges posed by the spread of the corona pandemic across the globe, the German Shipowners’ Association (Verband Deutscher Reeder – VDR) points out how important it is to have functioning maritime shipping services in place.  Each year, close to 300 million tons of goods are imported or exported via German seaports alone.  In the present situation, ships as closed units, often out at sea for weeks, are particularly suitable for transportation of goods. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought with it panic-buying of food and household essentials, despite the attempts of governments to discourage stockpiling.  Store shelves are being stripped bare from Singapore to Vancouver. Supermarkets have started rationing items.

In Hong Kong, a delivery man was robbed at knife-point of hundreds of toilet-paper rolls. Australia has seen brawls break out at supermarkets prompting police to taser one man. And France nationalized all production of face masks after people began depleting the supply. In view of this dire situation, efficient shipping services are even more important now.

VDR President Alfred Hartmann said: “The urgency not to allow this sea-based logistics chain to be disrupted will prove to be essential in the coming days and weeks – not only for Germany as an economic location, but for every single person. Each supermarket, every enterprise, but for instance also all hospitals, depend on merchandise transported by ships.” 

Being the world’s fifth largest maritime shipping nation, Germany is making an effort to ensuring that no major supply bottlenecks occur.  However, the VDR has noted that drastic restrictions are increasingly being imposed on these merchant vessels entering ports.  In many ports, the crew members can no longer disembark to travel home, frequently after months of being out at sea.  To make matters worse, immigration restrictions are being imposed in other countries. 

Hartmann had already made his appeal to keep ports open without fail in order to continue transporting goods by ship on the occasion of the summit meeting of employers and trade unions with Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, at the Federal Chancellery a few days ago, where it received wide approval. 

“The seafarers simply continue to work just about everywhere to ensure security of supply. Most crews cannot be replaced for at least one month. That deserves the highest recognition and respect.”

In this connection, President Hartmann called for seafarers to be exempted from travel bans, just like other groups of professions. “Seafarers must be able to embark so that ships can continue to sail.” 

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