The leaders of the major shipping bodies met virtually to discuss the most pressing issues facing the industry as we move into 2021. The Round Table chairs reiterated that the industry is fully committed to finding solutions to the crew change and climate crises.
Top of the agenda was the continued lack of international recognition for seafarers as ‘key workers’. This, despite 90% of global trade relying on shipping in some part. The upshot was a joint open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos from BIMCO, INTERCARGO, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and INTERTANKO. The letter calls for Bezos to use his influence and profile as the world’s leading retail entrepreneur, whose business relies upon global shipping, to take a stand for the 400,000 seafarers stranded at sea and exert pressure on the incoming Biden administration in the US and other world leaders to recognise seafarers as key workers.
The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations was also a hot topic at the Round Table. With several vaccines having made headlines around the world for their high levels of efficacy, the issue of ensuring that seafarers – who should be treated as key workers – receive vaccinations quickly and efficiently was raised.
Headlines have been made around the world throughout 2020 concerning the hundreds of thousands of sailors who are trapped on board their vessels, unable to disembark due to crew change facilities being made unavailable in the pandemic. The charterers’ change of attitude to actively support crew change is needed if they are to live up to their corporate, social and governance responsibilities. Members of the Round Table felt that there was now a risk that sailors could be forgotten again, if there was not a specific programme put in place to vaccinate seafarers as a priority.
The third key topic of discussion was the continued importance of the shipping industry controlling its GHG emissions and wider impact on the environment. Recent progress at the UN’s International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) MEPC 75 meeting was welcomed, but the immediate need for a large-scale injection of research and political will was obvious for real progress towards a zero-carbon industry by 2050 be made. Addressing the climate challenge and reducing emissions is a key priority for the industry and the Round Table pledged to urgently work towards a sustainable and equitable future for all.
Esben Poulsson, Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, who was chairing the Round Table meeting commented:
“2020 has been one of the most challenging years for the world in recent times. But we have seen companies like Amazon increasing their profits thanks to a great extent to the actions of seafarers who have kept trade flowing. We now need leaders like Jeff Bezos to raise their voices in support of the many seafarers who despite being in effect trapped by the crew change crisis have continued to perform their duties”
“Without immediate action from industry and governments around the world, 2021 will be a year of slow and complicated recovery. For an industry which supports the vast majority of global trade and lies at the heart of viable economic recovery, this represents an unacceptable future. It is of the utmost importance that seafarers are more widely recognised as key workers and prioritised for vaccinations. This is urgently needed to end the nightmare many hundreds of thousands of seafarers have endured over the last year, allowing them to just do their jobs.”