The impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented, unfurling across the world like some giant black cloud and delivering the sharpest economic downturn of recent times.
If any positive for the maritime industry has emerged so far it has been to point up the essential role of seafarers and other marine personnel in keeping trade moving. Never has the adage proved truer that ‘oceans not only separate nations, they also connect them’ and there has been an outpouring of support for those who spend their working lives at sea (see pp.13-15).
Shipping economist Dr Martin Stopford points out in this issue’s lead article (pp.9-11) that crises affecting shipping have tended to occur fairly regularly, roughly once every decade, the previous one having been the financial crash of 2008/9. These act as inflection points in shipping industry cycles and can have a salutary effect in the longer term by helping rebalance tonnage supply and demand.
Today’s crisis looks set to cause a short-term dearth of shipbuilding orders but Stopford reckons this could help the industry better prepare for the rapid progress it must make in coming decades towards low, and eventually zero, carbon emissions – which he describes as the biggest technical
challenge facing ship design since the transition from sail to steam.
This issue also contains reports on the major shipping hubs of Singapore and the Middle East, including their efforts to combat spread of the virus. This year’s Singapore Maritime Week, scheduled for April, was an early casualty of the pandemic while Dubai has also seen its landmark hosting of Expo 2020 due to start in October postponed until 2021.
Other leading shipping gatherings like Posidonia in Greece, SMM in Germany, and CMA in the US have all had to shift dates as well, completing the picture of truly global disruption.