Shipping needs to put in place better protocols to mitigate the risks posed by Covid-19 until more information about the virus emerges, said experts at Riviera’s webinar on How Covid-19 is transforming tanker operations
A panel of experts representing operators, healthcare and flag discussed issues around repatriation, mitigating infection risks on board and fielded questions from attendees.
The event was hosted by Riviera’s executive editor and head of business relations Edwin Lampert. The panel featured Ardmore Shipping chief operating officer Mark Cameron, Liberian Registry (LISCR) managing director Gerry Buchanan and Future Care global medical director Dr Arthur Diskin.
Outlining the impact Covid-19 has had on seafarers and the efforts being made to mitigate the impact, Mr Cameron said seafarers are experiencing a “sense of abandonment” as plans for repatriation are constantly changing.
His comments echo the latest data from the Seafarer Happiness Index which shows declining seafarer satisfaction amidst repatriation challenges.
Noting that shipping is based on trust, Mr Cameron said seafarers have been let down by governments whose actions have not recognised the importance of seafarers’ roles in keeping the world moving during the pandemic and the personal sacrifices many seafarers have been forced to make while effectively marooned on board vessels.
He also pointed out that many tanker owners saw record earnings during the same period.
Mr Cameron said class societies and charterers have helped manage risk and facilitation of crew changes, but the seafarer repatriation crisis threatened to cast a shadow over the sector as young people decide whether a career at sea is worth the risk. The industry risks losing out on top talent due to the struggle of seafarers to return home during the pandemic, he said.
Adding that it is unlikely that a new unified standard for seafarer repatriation would emerge out of the pandemic, Mr Cameron said “there is no solution, just workarounds” and that repatriation depends on the situation in a given place. He said the situation calls for “nimble thinking and patience.” He encouraged IMO to “throw the rulebook on visas out of the window” and recognise the seafarer’s discharge book as a travel document.
“There is only one thing worse than having a failed plan and that is no plan” said Mr Cameron.
Noting that repatriation efforts have been made more difficult as governments have had a narrow focus on preventing the spread of the virus, Mr Buchanan said “nothing is going to happen without governments agreeing to what is proposed”.
At a time when many ports, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, operate with individual Covid-19 rules, Mr Buchanan said the key is to build trust with the authorities. Owners must ensure the presence of a proven risk management process to build confidence with the authorities, he said. He outlined the need for conducting more WHO-approved testing, the requirement for fast, unfalsifiable results and the need for a potential vaccine.
He said the Liberian Registry is conducting a pilot project to bring in a tamper-proof solution to shipping by working with SICPA, a company that specialises in providing authentication and secure traceability technology.
As shipping must continue operations through the pandemic, Mr Buchanan expects that remote inspection will continue out of necessity as there is “no alternative”, drydocks must continue or be subject to moderate postponements at most.
Providing a medical perspective, Dr Diskin laid out several ways owners might mitigate the risk of transmitting the virus on board, and treatment if and when seafarers contract the virus. His suggestions included ensuring the presence of one member on board with the highest level of medical expertise, strategic planning for crew disembarkation at every stage and attempting a full crew turnover whenever possible.
As portable tests may not be available until 2021, crew must adapt to new social distancing norms and use masks and gloves when moving cargo.
Taking the example of norovirus outbreaks on cruise vessels, Dr Diskin said there is an absence of an exact number of cases where operations might cease in case of a Covid-19 infection. This is in part due to the lack of case fatalities with norovirus as compared to Covid-19, he said.
Improvements in vessel design may help mitigate infections. Dr Diskin said the evidence of airborne transmission might result in operators having to focus on providing fresh air over recirculated air, monitoring particle size and CO2 concentration.
Using materials made of copper alloy on frequently used surfaces might help slow transmission, he noted. Operators are also advised to make on board interactions touch free wherever possible – such as common areas and shared toilet facilities.
Commenting on the possibility of a vaccine, Dr Diskin said he expects that a vaccine for general use on a global basis will only emerge at the end of 2021.“We are looking at best at a six-month, at worst an 18-month horizon before we get a cohesive battleplan. From a medical, testing and prevention standpoint we are in a very dynamic place right now.”
Ultimately, Dr Diskin expects that until knowledge of the virus and how to respond to it advances, operators are best served by putting protocols in place by changing crew habits to match the ‘new normal’, making the aforementioned environmental changes and by keeping the pressure on governing bodies to recognise issues of crew mental health and well being.
58% of the attendees at the webinar said Covid-19 issues are of extreme importance to senior management but on the issues of whether their companies have found solutions for Covid-19 issues for crew care and crew exchange, responses were split 50-50 between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
When asked if their company sought out the assistance of telemedical providers to manage Covid-19 testing of individual or group crew exchange, 57% of the responses leaned to the negative.
You can view this webinar and all of the webinars from Riviera’s Tanker Shipping & Trade Webinar Week, in full, in our webinar library.
And you can sign up to attend our upcoming webinars on our events page.
The webinar panel featured Future Care global medical director Dr Arthur Diskin, Liberian Registry (LISCR) managing director Gerry Buchanan and Ardmore Shipping chief operating officer Mark Cameron.