If there is one conclusion to draw from 2020, it is that one rarely knows the future until it has turned into the past.
The impact of the global pandemic has reverberated through our lives, the global economy and energy markets.
This year began with a sense that offshore oil and gas was showing signs of recovery, but Covid-19 energy demand destruction and an oil glut – with the price of US oil turning negative for the first time in history in April – quickly snuffed out any glimmer of optimism.
VesselsValue head of offshore Rob Day told OSJ that he doesn’t see an improvement in the US Gulf of Mexico for at least two years. He pointed out that the OSV market is still plagued by all of the ‘old market fundamentals’ that it faced prior to the pandemic.
“The US GOM is still drastically oversupplied, Covid-19 has amplified this, with too many boats chasing even less work than at the start of the year! The effects of the last 10 months will be felt for the next 18 months to two years, so we may begin seeing a sustained and quantifiable improvement in about 2022-2023,” said Mr Day.
Given the challenging market conditions in the US GOM, OSV owners are assessing emerging opportunities in the nascent US offshore wind sector. While there is much optimism around the US offshore wind sector, it is by no means a panacea. Additionally, given the anticipated offshore wind project timelines, they could well be competing with offshore oil and gas developments for finite US maritime resources – shipyards, suppliers and, most importantly, qualified mariners – at a time when both markets are ramping up.
“Mariners have been the real unsung heroes, keeping energy flowing and food, clothing and construction materials moving”
As Matt Bonvento, a maritime educator and former senior manager at Vanuatu Maritime Services, recently observed, there is “a slim pool of mariners with the requisite DP credentials to handle these vessels. If they are forced to look elsewhere for work as the GOM recovers, there may be a shortage of qualified labour.”
During the pandemic, mariners have been some of the real unsung heroes, keeping energy flowing and food, clothing and construction materials moving.
Globally, the crew change crisis has tested the resiliency of hundreds of thousands of seafarers that have been stranded onboard vessels for months beyond their original contracts.
At one point, IMO estimated that some 400,000 seafarers were trapped on ships, working without relief because of Covid-related travel restrictions and limited air connections to seaports. Additionally, another 400,000 seafarers were stuck onshore, unable to join ships to relieve their colleagues.
Commenting on the crew change crisis, IMO Secretary Kim Lim recently pointed out: “Overly fatigued and mentally exhausted seafarers are being asked to continue to operate ships … Ship safety is hanging in the balance, just as seafarers’ lives are being made impossible. The safety of navigation is in peril.”
Progress is being made however; Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) chief executive Quah Lee Hoon said during a 3 November webinar that almost 51,000 crew have been changed this year since 27 March. She said the crew came from 2,900 companies and over 3,500 ships, adding that 500 to 600 sign-ons or sign-offs per day were being conducted at the port under strict Covid crew change guidelines. She noted that 99% of the crew onboard are within their service contract period. The port is working with ship operators to repatriate the remaining 1%.
While much has been made about advances in remote operations and autonomous vessel technology during Covid, as Ms Quah, said, seafarers are “the backbone of the maritime industry”. While technology advancements will support decision-making in vessel operations, mariners will remain the backbone of the industry for years to come – that you can count on.