By Claudio Bozzo, Chief Operating Officer, MSC
Shipping is one of the oldest industries in the world. Today, around 90% of goods are transported by sea, 70% of these in containers. It takes a huge workforce to move all those goods from one place to another, in fact around 2 million seafarers are keeping trade flowing, for the benefit of everybody. Shipping is a resilient industry, but the global pandemic set an unimaginable challenge for our industry.
Ten months ago nobody could have predicted the far-reaching impact of this global health crisis. At that point, we were blissfully unaware that this would start a humanitarian crisis on a global scale. Today, it continues to stretch healthcare systems around the world and place immense pressure on economies. The pandemic has affected us all and we are trying to adapt to the ‘new normal’ by adjusting the way we do business and interact.
“This truly is a global crisis. It does not only impact us, it also impacts our customers and their customers. All of them rely on shipping companies such as MSC to continue transporting their goods”.
Challenging global supply chains
At MSC, we have always been proud of our ability to continue serving clients under any circumstances. As a responsible family company, we regard our people as our greatest asset and we recognise how important it is to establish safe working conditions, whether at sea or in the office. Early on, when the virus started showing signs of a global pandemic, we implemented robust health measures onboard and ashore.
Besides protecting our own people, these measures keep cargo safe and trade moving. Container shipping has reconfirmed its role as the essential cog in global trade by moving essential goods such as medicines, food, fresh produce, clothes and personal protective equipment around the globe.
“Our ships go practically everywhere, including developing countries which are hugely dependent on the delivery of food and other essential materials. By keeping the goods moving, MSC ships continue to enable connected economies, even during the pandemic”.
In fact, when air freight was no longer an option for many due to the closure of airports in many parts of the world, supply chains relied on sea transport. At that moment, we quickly adapted our services and solutions to fit this new situation in order to continue serving our customers in new ways. It quickly became clear that container shipping plays a crucial role in mitigating the spread of the pandemic whilst helping save lives by ensuring access to critical healthcare.
Disruptions to trade mean serious impacts to livelihoods. Many small producers for example are struggling with accessing the bigger markets and import/export bans challenge the supply chains even more. Due to our global network, we have been able to adapt to the current challenging environment by offering customers flexible solutions to continue moving their goods in an efficient and cost-effective way despite land-border blockages or restrictions set by governments. MSC is supporting long term economic development everywhere we operate by continuing to invest heavily in developing and enhancing existing regional and international trade corridors.
Another disruption came in the form of governments banning crew changes on ships. Many seafarers continued to work even after their contracts had ended under very difficult conditions. Meanhile, many remained at home unable to reach their ships, waiting for the next mission to start. Operating in such uncertain and difficult conditions causes serious risks to physical and mental health.
These have been extremely challenging times for our seafarers and we will continue working with our industry peers and associations to push governments to find solutions, to make sure that our crew members can embark and disembark as they should.
Container shipping has proven resilient in its ability to withstand storms unlike any other form of mass transportation. Shipping lines are able to quickly match capacity with demand, but mobility restrictions related to Covid-19 are likely to continue to impact the volumes of goods transported.
We have learned a lot from this crisis. Having proper business continuity plans in place is essential for any business. In our case, we were able to quickly adapt to a whole new working environment without disruptions to our services. Besides implementing robust health measures in our offices as well as aboard, we ensured we had the right technologies in place to allow remote working for our employees. Technology has also allowed us to remain in close contact with the whole workforce including those who cannot work remotely – such as our seafarers onboard and at land, dock workers and truck drivers. Staying connected is key to ensuring business continues and a requirement for people staying productive and healthy.
What comes next
As we are still in the middle of the pandemic, whilst hoping for a fast development of a vaccine, it is essential that global supply chains will not be disrupted. We do not yet know how and when countries and economies can start to recover but it is clear we will need to deal with the aftermath for some time.
“These exceptional times have proven our resiliency and ability to innovate to keep the world moving. We have always taken pride in our personalised customer service but I am proud to say that these exceptional times have brought us even closer, and together with our customers and partners we will come out of this even stronger”.
It is too early to say what the real impact for the sector and global economy will be. At the moment, whilst keeping the world moving, we all need to support coordinated action between the private sector and governments to ensure lifting of constraints causing disruptions to global trade.