Shipping industry amidst COVID-19

The furious speed at which COVID-19 has spread from the most populous of all continents, Asia, to Europe and then to the US killing thousands of people is sending the global economy reeling.  As country after country, including India, is enforcing comprehensive lockdown of life, the economic cost of which remains anybody’s guess, all stakeholders of shipping and ports across the globe are scurrying for cover.

Humanity is now facing a new global epidemic outbreak named COVID-19 likes of which were not seen in the last century. The COVID-19 outbreak, which has been upgraded by the National Health Organization from the Epidemic Disease level, (having more limited impact) to the Pandemic Disease level (high level of risk of expansion all over the world) has had serious effects on the global economy.

This impact has also caused serious problems and changes in the international trade and transportation fields that are the major components of the global economy. Many sectors were and are still affected by the current circumstances and the activities, operations of some sectors have come to a standstill. Many severe obstacles and changes have been observed due to Covid-19 in the field of international trade and transportation. In maritime transportation it is of utmost importance to keep the operations stable and as planned.

The Indian maritime industry is facing problems on Various fronts.

One of the problems is: Several Indian seafarers are stranded in international waters. Another problem is that, due to lockdown, import containers have piled up at ports as manufacturing of non-essential goods is yet to pick up.
It may be mentioned that India’s exports too have shrank almost 35% in March, the biggest contraction in almost a decade, reflecting the global slowdown made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is, however, heartening to note that the government and authorities are taking steps to try and ease the problems of the industry.

As far as the stranded seafarers are concerned, the Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has underlined detailed action plan, in close coordination with various stakeholders, for quick evacuation. Acknowledging the importance of seafarers for the smooth supply chain movement, Mandaviya also highlighted the challenges being faced by the seafarers and appreciated their work in these crucial and testing times.

The government has also declared Rs 50 lakh compensation for the port employees/workers in case of loss of life due to the contagion. Ministry of Shipping has decided that all the Major Ports may grant compensation ex-gratia in the event of loss of life due to COVID-19 to the dependent members or legal heirs of the port employees.

To ensure smooth cargo operations at India’s ports amid the coronavirus pandemic, the shipping ministry has sought the commerce ministry’s intervention for issuing advisory for recognition of electronic trading documents instead of “manual trade documentation” still required by many departments and financial institutions. Citing bottlenecks caused in handling EXIM cargo on account of the current manual process, it sought the commerce ministry’s intervention for issuing advisory to departments, including customs, and the Indian Banks Association for accepting ‘electronically generated trade documentation’.

Another positive step it has taken is extending the validity of Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC) for seamen for six months. An order from Director General of Shipping says: “ln view of the difficulties being faced by the seafarers it is decided that the validity of CDC, expiry date of which is falling during 1st February, 2020 to 1st October, 2020 (both dates inclusive) is extended for a period of 6 (six) months.”

Maritime Destination is happy to note that the government and the authorities are coming to the aid of the industry and hopes that this process will continue in the future.

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