The incident in May this year, when the Singapore registered container ship APL England lost some 40 containers overboard off the coast of New South Wales, highlighted not only a continuing problem in the reliability of lashings but also the growing impatience of Port State Authorities with the consequences. In the case of APL England, the vessel was in transit from China to Melbourne and about 73 kms S.E. of Sydney when an engine failure left the vessel to the mercy of the elements resulting in unusually heavy rolling. In addition to the containers lost, 74 were judged to be damaged including six hanging overboard. Rather than continue to Melbourne the vessel returned north to the port of Brisbane as a port of refuge. The vessel had previously lost 37 containers in the Great Australian Bight in August 2016, due to heavy rolling in rough seas.
A study released a few days ago by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), concludes that commodity exports to China are likely to fall substantially as a consequence of Covid-19. According to the report, in a worst case scenario China’s 2020 demand for commodities could fall by as much as 50% compared to 2019. With China absorbing around 20% of global commodities, this would inevitably have a severe impact on the world’s ports and commodity export dependent economies, further compounded by the continuing trade war with the U.S. Perhaps understandably, China has decided to temporarily drop the publication of annual growth targets.
As the world continues to wrestle with the challenge of COVID-19, the immediate, medium and long term implications for the maritime sector appear to be gaining recognition. The decision to layup a vessel is usually financial, sometimes operational, but on a personal note and for any seafarer, the experience is always emotional. Accustomed to running hard 24/7/365, when everything comes to a grinding halt and the vessel is left with a skeleton crew the question begs, where from here? Facts dictate the business decision to layup a vessel but the personal uncertainty of those impacted can often be overlooked. It is rarely so simple as switching to another vessel when the whole future of a company or even an entire sector of the marine industry is in a crisis of the magnitude of today.
The spread of Covid-19 across the world has shed a spotlight on the ability of the International Maritime Organization’s ability to have a number of basic maritime conventions respected, in particular as they relate to Ports of Refuge, SOLAS and MLC (2006).
The recently released annual report of the International Maritime Bureau highlights the continuing scourge of maritime piracy in the shipping industry and the complicit inaction of regional governments, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. While piracy is trending downwards worldwide, it is accelerating in the Gulf of Guinea with the brazen armed robbery and the kidnap of seafarers for ransom, a recent incident of which has resulted in a seafarer’s death.
When it comes to discussions of the Arctic here in Canada, there is an emphasis on the importance of maintaining sovereignty and preservation of the unique environment but with far less consideration to the economic opportunities that the Arctic represents. By contrast, Russia and China are both aggressively moving to advance their Arctic interests, even though China is not geographically speaking an Arctic power.