Here, we ask two of the participants, Kevin Daffey and Dr Claire Pekcan, for their thoughts, find out how some in the industry are coping, and hear from a cruise ship engineer who’s been stuck on board since March.
Disruption and opportunities: Kevin Daffey, president, the IMarEST
As COVID-19 has disrupted the marine sector, problems have arisen in the treatment of crews, but, on the positive side, some organisations have reacted quickly to create opportunities for remote working, such as class societies.
There has also been a huge amount of effort to make remote surveys work, ensuring accuracy and equivalence to conventional surveys.
We still don't know how quickly the cruise industry will recover and how the public will perceive being on board large vessels with thousands of other people.
A big issue is that the mental health of crew members is suffering due to anxiety at being separated from their families in these challenging times, and there are job security issues too, as they cannot change ships or find alternative work as their contract expires.
What’s next? There will be some things that will change forever, and we need to envisage what our sector will look like in 12 to 36 months. Will COVID-19 create new inequalities in the sector? And how do we deal with it?
We need to improve things for our seafarers: Dr Claire Pekcan, director, Safe Marine
Since the WHO declared the coronavirus infection a pandemic, crew exchanges around the globe have effectively stopped.
Seafarers have been in caught in the crossfire. Those at sea are trapped on board; those ashore are trapped at home, unable to earn the money to provide the basic necessities of life for their families.
Following the introduction of the Maritime Labour Convention in 2013, there has been a legal requirement to repatriate seafarers before they have served 12 months at sea.
Currently, companies are reporting that they have many seafarers, especially crew, whose sea service is beyond 12 months, and so these companies are now, in effect, breaking the law. However, the main concern is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on seafarers’ mental well-being.
We know from recent research funded by ITF Seafarers’ Trust that up to a quarter of seafarers may already have been suffering from clinical levels of depression before the pandemic.
This research also made two important discoveries: first, separation from families is the principal cause of distress; and second, relief at the end of one’s contract is a critical time for seafarers’ mental health. The study found that it is during a delay to their relief that seafarers are most likely to experience mental ill-health. The pandemic is hitting seafarers where it hurts most by denying them repatriation.
The international maritime community has tried several strategies to facilitate the movement of seafarers.
Initially, there were attempts to get countries to recognise seafarers as key workers, given the vital role they play in keeping supply chains open. However, to date, only a handful of countries have afforded seafarers this designation, the UK being one.
Kitack Lim, secretary-general of IMO, has written to key maritime nations, re-emphasising their responsibilities under international laws to allow seafarers ashore. The problem remains that the hub ports where crew exchanges take place are either not allowing seafarers entry, or there are no flights from these ports back to seafarers’ home countries.
For many years, academics have written about conditions on board merchant vessels and the prevalence of low regard for seafarers’ welfare.
In effect, the international maritime community knew there was a serious problem before the pandemic hit.
The pandemic has highlighted once more the importance of timely relief. The disease has also given us a golden opportunity to work collaboratively, systematically and purposefully to address the challenges posed by crew exchanges and to secure significant improvements in seafarers’ well-being.
Keeping going across 75 countries: Nick Brown, marine and offshore director, Lloyd’s Register
Lloyd’s Register has been managing the COVID-19 situation since January, as it impacted colleagues in China, who have now returned to work.
To protect our people and the personnel of our clients and partners, we introduced further protocols to assess the risks of specific jobs before work is started, and, in certain circumstances, we have agreed to postpone and reschedule non-critical work.
Much of the work we have undertaken in the last few months has required us to respond in difficult quarantine scenarios, managing multiple stakeholders, including Flags and Port Authorities, to keep our clients, their people, ships and cargo safe and sailing.
The teamwork and determination to keep critical supply chains open are a true testament to the efforts of all our shipowner/manager clients and field surveyors. This way, the food, medical, energy and household supplies that are needed are readily available to society.
COVID-19 has required our leadership to make multiple decisions in a short time frame, with safety being at the core of each decision. Everything has relied on near-term decision-making, centred around the safety of our staff.
It was a case of doing what was right in the moment with the information to hand. While many of the ‘big’ decisions were made by the governments where we work, Lloyd’s Register had to respond, coordinating across 75 countries and ensuring our plans were cascaded, understood and monitored to ensure the safety of our colleagues, clients and their sites.
Impact on remote capabilities: James Forsdyke, head of product management, Lloyd’s Register
COVID-19 has definitely been a catalyst, driving change borne out of necessity, but this change will redefine ways of working in the longer term. For everyone in maritime, Lloyd’s Register included, remote capability has been critical in recent months.
We have been using remote surveys for many years in the marine and offshore sector. However, we have seen a dramatic acceleration in demand for remote surveys, and in April we saw a massive increase in our remote engagement with our clients, rising from our trend of 5–10% of complex surveys done remotely – which has been our norm for a number of years – to more than 25%.
The personal view: stuck in lockdown on a cruise ship
The writer has asked for their contribution to be anonymous, for commercial reasons.
Our voyage started in New Orleans and we were due to sail to San Diego via the Panama Canal.
By the time we departed the canal in mid-March, the virus was almost the only topic of discussion. Concern for our guests and crew meant we implemented a twice-daily temperature measurement of all crew, eliminated all buffet meal arrangements, instigated our highest-level sanitation programme and cancelled the calls to ports.
With escalating concern over the situation and reducing airline options, we arrived in San Diego earlier than scheduled to ensure guests could get home. This was the start of what became a 10-week period of partial lockdown for all those officers and crew who were considered to be non-essential to the operation of the vessel.
The benefits of being part of a major company is that food and fuel have not been an issue and, as such, the practicalities of living on board have not brought any hardship. The lifeline for many crews has been a good internet connection and weekly delivery of Amazon parcels.
Due to the quite specific requirements of local and national regulatory bodies, together with limited scheduled commercial flights and border closures, there has been great difficulty in securing the approval for crew movement off the vessel, which is required to match up with flights to the relevant destinations.
This is very complicated, and flights have frequently been cancelled, disappointing those who had been hoping to go home.
We have excellent medical facilities, and everybody has received good healthcare from a physical standpoint and emotional support. Of course, the situation generates concerns for some crewmembers who may have dependent relatives at home who need to be cared for.
All our officers and crew have been offered contract extensions, and while some have declined, they have the same level of facilities on board as those still working while they wait for a flight home.
I believe cruise companies have, in general, taken good care of their crews and have tried hard to repatriate them as quickly as possible. On my ship, crews have been given guest staterooms, the majority of which have balconies.
But despite seafaring being an international occupation, and given most goods are transported by sea – including healthcare equipment and supplies – it is quite unbelievable that the combined efforts of IMO, ILO, ITF, MLC, CLIA, IATA, INTERTANKO and many more have been ineffective in establishing seafarers as key workers, which would allow them special consideration for repatriation.