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.
With the deadline for implementation of IMO 2020 now in the rearview mirror, we are on what might be described as step two of a ten-step ladder to be climbed if shipping is to meet the ambitious IMO targets for 2030 and 2050 which ultimately call for a reduction in total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of at least 50% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels while simultaneously pursuing efforts to eliminate emissions entirely.
To give this discussion some perspective, the International Chamber of Shipping, representing the full spectrum of maritime nations and related NGOs, often reminds us that 90% of world trade is reliant on marine transportation. While much of this is largely out of the public eye, the conduct of maritime commerce earns ship owners an estimated $500 billion annually in freight rates, much of which is reinvested, of necessity, in new tonnage.