There is a future for the shipping world post pandemic

Published Seatrade Online 22 May 2020

The world economy will recover following the COVID-19 pandemic and it will be the global shipping industry that will be at the forefront of this fightback.

Yet the sector will not emerge unscathed and there will be economic casualties and any recovery will take time. What we must see in the next 12 months is a greater awareness of the working conditions of seafarers and the benefits of digital operations.

The global recovery won’t happen overnight and the ‘new world’ we emerge into will be one focused more on digital technology and the human element because if we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that there are weaknesses in the operational chain. If you can’t get to a ship, can’t conduct a survey or inspection, then that is a weakness of the current system. But the solutions are not in the far future, they are here and now, and we have been providing them for shipowners. We must re-evaluate the way we conduct business in the shipping world and move into the world of digital operations.

Over the past months of the pandemic we have concentrated on supporting ship owners as a digital ship registry through our network of Deputy Registrars who are working with ship owners and operators to mitigate the effects of the current pandemic crisis by supporting them with our digital services and remote operations. It is this emphasis on bringing future digital operations into the present that has enabled us to support them during this difficult period.

But one of the most depressing issues arising from the pandemic has been the effects on seafarers. Lockdowns and restricted movements have meant they are either unable to leave their ships or trapped on land unable to join vessels. Not only has the pandemic caused serious financial pressures on the industry but it has in impacted on the mental health of seafarers. This is an issue not only for crew but also for their employers. This is an area that we need to pay a great deal more attention to post-COVID.

Seafarers are still a vital element of the shipping world and this pandemic has been a wake-up call in relation to the their working conditions. It has exposed this area of operations as a real weakness and yet we have the solutions.

The shipping world has always been receptive to change, and shipowners are aware of the benefits of technology, even if some have been slow to embrace new ways of working. With digital operations and online services, we can guarantee same day delivery to vessels, ships and seafarers’ certificates and the rest of our services, most delivered onboard within a matter of seconds. This is what the world’s shipping fleet will benefit from as industry looks to them to power the recovery as the resourcefulness and determination of ship owners has always pulled the global economy through in times of trouble.

We must put our faith in digital technology to regenerate the shipping world. The pandemic has illustrated how much we need to be able to continue operations without the psychical presence needed in so many aspects of the industry.

My concern from the start of the lockdowns was the health and safety of my employees and fleet personnel. Only by technology and remote operations could we operate without jeopardising their safety. This is the future and it is here and available now. We should not be exposing those who work in the shipping world to needless risks simply because we have always relied on them rather than using the latest online services. 

Throughout this continuing pandemic PISR has been providing unbroken services for shipowners by using remote operations through digital services. This has to be the future for the shipping sector: almost instant delivery of e-certificates to ships at sea; online applications for all documentation; the issuing of digital documents for seafarers; online payments and support and the introduction of remote surveys and audits. Shipowners are looking to achieve the best value for money and looking at their costs so there is a need for more online fee calculators offering transparent costs will help them to budget and control costs. This is the future of shipping here and now.

Progress may be slow in the initial months following the lifting of global lockdowns but the shipping world is already moving. The sector has always been slow to change. This is partly due to the complex nature and scope of the IMO and changes often take a long time to come into action. Post-COVID this is unlikely to continue and we are already seeing the introduction of regulatory changes that will allow progress related to Port State Control and certifications, insurance cover and remote surveys for ships. There are both operational and financial benefits of using these technology tools so I can see a tangible benefit for the shipping sector in adopting and adapting to new technology.

Our registry has been at the forefront of introducing digital technology services and ship owners have responded positively. Post-COVID we must press ahead with sweeping away practices that endanger the welfare of seafarers, place shipowners in financial and regulatory perils and cost the industry more than it should in financial terms.

Digital services are the way forward and there should be no place for those who cannot see the future here and now.

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