The COVID-19 outbreak has been causing a huge impact on people’s lives, families and communities. As the international response continues to develop, organisations are operating in uncharted waters. Critical information on the characteristics of this new virus and its impacts on the global business activity are difficult to assess and are changing overnight.
In these unprecedented times, the ability of shipping services to continue undisrupted to transport food, energy and medical supplies across the continents will play a critical role in overcoming this pandemic. Shipping companies will need to become agile and adaptable to this changing situation, and focus on building effective response strategies and plans.
Senior management should now be focused on a Response Strategy Plan and ensure that this plan is capable of keeping the lights on today, in the weeks and the months ahead.
A Response Strategy Plan requires first of all planning for the worst case scenario, that is how the crisis will evolve over time, which is the baseline to work out, what will be the biggest possible impact for the organisation. For example, does management expect that government measures will manage to contain the virus spread? Which locations are likely to come on line and back to business first? How soon does management expect that travel and people-gathering restrictions will be lifted? Does management expect the virus-spread to worsen in countries which are key to their supply chain or the regions in which it operates? The evaluation of the worst case scenario is an ongoing process as the crisis continues to evolve and new insights and facts will become available.
Relevant policies and procedures must be put in place to address the risks identified by the scenario planning process as well as any legal or regulatory requirements. For example, shipping companies should make sure that comprehensive policies, which comply with regulatory guidelines, have been communicated onboard to minimise any risk of infection and any such cases are timely detected and isolated. Other considerations may include:
- Keeping full visibility of their officers and crew and especially supporting those on board vessels who cannot repatriate due to travel restrictions
- Identifying critical voyages whereby crew may not be able to get onboard due to port lockdowns;
- Identifying cases of seafarers who will extend their onboarding period beyond the eligible timeframes, and evaluate regulatory implications
- Developing programs for the wellbeing of seafarers spending an excessive amount of time on board the vessels