By Captain George Livingstone – I doubt there is a soul on God’s green earth that doesn’t know what COVID-19 is, now a worldwide pandemic. Folks a lot smarter than me and you consider it a virtual wartime situation. I certainly hope there is no argument regarding the gravity of all this. If there is any among you who disagree, consider the following: if this is all completely overblown and we act with alacrity anyway, well no harm, no foul. If the gravity of this is not properly considered and we do too little too late then it is possible we face the greatest calamity since WWII.
Since this crisis has developed and evolved, many unsung heroes have emerged like hospital workers, all of them, not just doctors and nurses. How about the folks working to keep our store shelves lined with goods? Too many to mention; unsung, essential workers of all kinds, including professional mariners.
Letter of Warning
Lloyd’s List columnist Anastassios Adamopoulos reported in a March 19 column a letter sent by The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Federation (ITF) to the heads of the United Nation’s stressing the importance of seafarers in the circulation of global trade.
Each month, approximately 100,000 seafarers need to switch crews on the ships they work with to comply with the relevant international maritime regulations so that they can continue to transport global trade safely, according to the letter.
About 90% of global trade is transported by commercial marine freight, which transports food, energy, and raw materials in the world, as well as goods and manufactured components – including biomedical supplies, and many products sold in supermarkets. And the necessary materials (due to complex supply chains) to maintain many jobs in the manufacturing sector – without which modern society simply cannot function.
At this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and to keep the trade and maritime transport movement going. Immediate solutions must be found to the many challenges facing seafarers, including the exchange of crews and the movement of seafarers in the ports, and allowing commercial vessels to reach the ports.
“We therefore wish to emphasize the vital need for the world’s professional merchant seafarers to be granted appropriate exemptions from any national travel restrictions, when joining or leaving their ships, in order to keep the world’s maritime supply chains functioning,” the letter stated.
Seafarers should be treated as “key workers” such as airline crews and medical personnel. As such they should be afforded special consideration and treated with pragmatism and understanding when traveling to and from their ships.
Defeating the virus is the absolute first priority but somehow global trade must continue or the world faces disaster. Russia and Australia have recently decided to quarantine all arriving ships for up to 14 days (maybe longer) before allowing them to enter any ports. I have two comments regarding that. First, to my knowledge, outside of cruise ships, there have been almost NO instances of COVID-19 on merchant ships anywhere in the world, albeit so far. Second, the cure may be worse than the disease. The old saying ‘don’t cut off your nose to spite your face’ comes to mind. What’s the point of a decision that could bring a country to its knees if it doesn’t materially improve the crisis that prompted the decision in the first place? Truth be told, ship crews just aren’t a problem so far, the crisis is shore-based.
New Paradigms, Common Purpose and Leadership
As I wrote last month, the world is facing new paradigms. Adapt or fail, but adapting requires common sense and common purpose, something lacking in political leadership these days. While both the Left and the Right in the U.S. Congress haggle over petty biases and politics our country and the world drift toward a lee shore in the face of a hurricane west wind. The function of leadership is to guide or direct, if that isn’t being done, it’s not leadership.
We have faced worse and thank God we had the leadership to guide us through the rocks and shoals to safe harbor.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations’Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865
Captain George Livingstone is a San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.