The hits, misses of maritime industry responses to pandemic

UNCTAD reiterates its call to authorities to designate seafarers as key workers exempted from COVID-19 travel restrictions.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s newly released Review of Maritime Transport 2020, at the peak of the crisis, when the contraction of cargo volumes brought an additional challenge to structural market imbalance, the container shipping industry adopted more discipline, cutting capacity and reducing costs to maintain profitability instead of market share.

As a result, freight rates remained at stable levels despite the depressed demand. From the perspective of shippers, these strategies meant severe space limitations to transport goods and delays in delivery dates. 

To cope with pandemic-related disruptions, players in the maritime sector adjusted their operations, finances, sanitary and safety protocols as well as working practices and procedures.  In addition, several governments, through their border agencies, port authorities and customs administrations, made reforms to keep trade flowing while keeping people safe.

“Border agents, port workers and customs officials play an essential role in keeping trade moving, helping us to navigate through the crisis,” Dr. Kituyi said. “It will be important to assess the best practices that emerge from their experiences to strengthen trade facilitation in the years to come.”

However, UNCTAD reiterates its call to authorities to designate seafarers as key workers exempted from COVID-19 travel restrictions.  The report decries the humanitarian and safety crisis caused by the pandemic, when more than 300,000 seafarers were stranded at sea for months beyond the end of their contracts, an unsustainable situation for both the safety and wellbeing of seafarers, and the safe operation of ships.

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