Top 7 Ways to Battle COVID19 in Maritime Shipping

10 mins read  Sealuminati TeamMay 10, 2021
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Being the most vital form of trade transport solely dependent on travel and human interaction, the shipping industry has been drastically impacted by COVID 19. Lockdown, absence of employees at ports, the decline in demand rates, imports and exports, and delayed crew changes have verily disturbed the supply chain and maritime shipping. Lower demand has substantially decreased freight rates of commodity vessels such as dry bulk and tanker vessels.

With lower demand, crude oil prices also collapsed and there have been reports of VLCC ships leaving Chinese ports filled up to a mere 10% of their capacity. In January, according to Panjiva: a research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, container volume dropped 2.7% at American Ports and cargo volume fell approximately 25% in February 2020 as compared to 2019 at The Port of Los Angeles, the largest US container port. BDI (Baltic Dry Index), a shipping and trade index designed to measure changes in the cost of transporting raw materials like coal, wheat, iron et cetera has been down to ever low as 626 in March 2020 after 2016.


The rapid spread of the Corona Virus on ships like Diamond Princess and USS Theodore Roosevelt highlighted the risk of an estimated 1,647,500 seafarers (data by the International Chamber of Shipping) and employees working at thousands of ports around the globe. But scenarios of the shipping industry are changing each minute, after the trade was near to normalization by the end of 2020, many seafarers boarded the vessel and moved across several boundaries. Thus, making 400,000 seafarers stuck in different countries waiting to board commercial vessels, latest by March 2021.

On average, around 150,000 seafarers reach the end of their job contracts in any given month worldwide. As new strains of coronavirus are pushing hard, IMO and WHO in joint statements recognized seafarers as essential workers. They requested each Government to prioritize the vaccination of seafarers as they have to move across boundaries, even during this pandemic. Focuses are high on India, as most of the foreign countries have banned crew members from and traveling into India. National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) is urging all Indian seafarers to register for vaccination, as they are the worst hit by the mutants.

Countries believing that crewing issue is ‘no longer solely a shipping industry problem nor a crisis that the shipping industry can resolve on their own, are restricting crew changes for the next 21 days and will happen only if things get better after that. Supplying around 10% of the officer lever seafarers, India is again the worst hit in this aspect as well. The Philippines tops in being resilient against the crew changes, as they are worried about the 2nd strain.


Measures that have been taken by various countries and maritime bodies:


- IMO has issued many circular letters suggesting a framework of protocols to be observed during crew change, guidelines, recommendations for port and coastal organizations, and various competent government authorities, to check the spread, assess the risk of this pandemic, and manage this outbreak with the implementation of these measures upon the advice of many bodies ABS, DNVGL, IRS et cetera. Likely, IMO under letter no.4204/Add.6 issued some guidelines and recommendations for ensuring a safe interaction between ship and shore-based personnel to facilitate safe maritime trade during this pandemic. The recommendations are:

  • Ships should report any cases of illness indicative of COVID 19 on board as early as possible to the relevant authority in the port.
  • Regularly monitor personnel on board and report any change in health circumstances or symptoms related to COVID 19 to the relevant authority in the port.
  • Limit interactions of ship personnel with the port entities and restrict ship personnel in the ship while at the port.
  • Awareness to port workers on basic safety measures against COVID19 based on WHO guidelines.
  • Ensure port workers which have access to ships are supplied with PPE including masks, hand gloves, hand sanitizers et cetera.
  • Request port authorities and port workers to comply with any screening or other protocols or procedures introduced by visiting ships to address COVID-19.


- IACS issued a classical hierarchy of Eliminate, Substitute, Control, Administer, and Use PPE to manage the risk associated with survey activity and came up with suggestions of remote surveys, rearranging the surveys to a place having the lower threat of COVID 19, redesigning the survey to reduce physical interaction, managing exposure using safe distance, hygiene measures, health checks & quarantine, observing safe systems pre-survey checklists to reduce exposure and practice onboard behavioral protocols, and the use of PPEs to protect the surveyor and staff.


- The COVID 19 Task Force of UN Global Compact Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business recently released a list of 14 recommendations that are focused on ensuring safe, efficient, and continued ocean-related supply chains amid this pandemic. One of the recommendations given by the UN Global Compact Task Force classifying seafarers as "key workers" and deeming shipping and offshore activities an "essential service."


- Upon the advice of IMO, screening, and COVID 19 tests of offshore workers joining ports, seafarers prior to the joining on-board have been made compulsory by all the shipping companies. After the end of the employment contract of ship personnel, shipping companies ensure the COVID test and a compulsory 7-14 days quarantine to check the spread and exposure.


- Many countries including Australia, Singapore, and India are keeping ships with recent travel backgrounds of China in holding patterns until the crew is declared healthy and countries like South Korea are imposing stringent screening measures for seafarers and port workers.


- Many shipping companies like Anglo-Eastern, MSC et cetera arranged specially chartered flights collaborating with different airlines to ensure the safety and healthiness of seafarers while crew change.


Advisable Technological Advancements and Measures for shipping companies to contain this outbreak to continue safe operations are as follows: -


Unification of all Maritime Bodies

As shipping is an international matter, it would be hard for shipping companies to follow selective policies and measures according to a particular region, zone, or country. Though organizations like IMO, ICAS, UN bring many countries on a single platform to address such issues of global importance, it has been seen that the regulations, recommendations, and protocols could be imposed or followed by its member states only.


The countries that are not part of these organizations or at the war with these organizations not intend to follow their guidelines. The politics, regional supremacy should be held back while addressing such an issue. Thomas Peacock, professor of mechanical engineering, is a member of the task force of the UN says "Governments need to take a unified approach to not only avoid disruptions to the international supply chain but to ensure the healthiness of seafarers.”


UN Global Compact recommends an international and unified approach from quarantine measures, tracing, travel bans, government intervention at local, state, and national levels regarding supply chains and maritime industry. To bolster this approach, UN Global Compact Task Force has suggested the establishment of an Ocean Supply Chain Task Force in pursuit of holistic and harmonized global cooperation and coordination to ensure the safety and integrity of ocean-related global supply chains including certification and classification procedures across borders.


Antiviral Beds on Ships and Accommodations 


Among the concerns, one of the most important is safe accommodation of seafarers prior to joining vessels, onboard, and after the end of the employment contract. One of the suggestive advancements is the use of antiviral beds on board and in hotels where seafarers would lodge. Though after this pandemic COVID-19, the hotels and onboard accommodations are being cleaned more thoroughly the mattresses are one of the commodities which haven’t been addressed.


One of the company Serta Simmons Bedding that supplies most of the mattresses to the hospitality industry has partnered with the HeiQ group, a leader in textile innovation to create the first antiviral mattress using the technology HeiQ ViroBlock that has been approved by European Medical Device Directive for antiviral use in PPEs and acknowledged by the German EPA too.

The mentioned HeiQ ViroBlock technology is micro-silver technology that attracts virus particles combined with vesicle technology and breaks down the viral membrane through woven mattress fabric that acts like a magnet, binds, and breaks them until the virus is deactivated. The tests concluded that beddings with this technology retained their antiviral property for 3 years and their anti-bacterial trait for up to 20 years. The technology was proven 99.99% effective against Sars-CoV2 in an independent test. The replacement of beds on-board and the hotels accommodating seafarers would lessen the risks and exposure related to the Corona Virus due to the previous touch and interactions with the surface of the bed.


AI-Based Task Force in Maritime


Artificial intelligence could be of great help in battling such a pandemic in this international field of shipping which has its personnel on-board and offshore from every corner of the world. Better tracking of viruses would surely contain the spread. Applications could be designed especially for seafarers and port-workers that would keep records of their travel history, medical tests, their exposure to the Virus, and the threat rate in their proximity categorized according to the companies they work for and their passport number, and allocated CDC/COC ID forming a unique database.


There are many examples in the market: AI company Infervision launched an application that helps frontline workers to detect and monitor the disease, Alibaba also built an AI-Based diagnosis system which claims to be 96% efficient. One of the examples is “Corona Watch” which is being used by the Karnataka Government in India which gives details of places visited by COVID19 positive person in the last 14 days and Aarogya Setu, a similar app that has been developed and prescribed by the Government of India to every citizen of India which keeps the user informed about risk status by analyzing the patients in the proximity. So, an AI-based task force should work for shipping companies that:

  • Keeps travel records of seafarers and port-workers
  • Analyze the risk status of the virus for seafarers at the next port, their signing on/off ports, and at the accommodations.
  • Share medical and travel history of the last set of crew members to the next signing in crew members on a ship.
  • Categorized records based on companies, countries, and maritime routes to analyze risk in multidimensional aspects.
  • Installation of AI-Based testing and diagnosis systems on ships.


Robots can also be used for sterilizing and cleaning purposes at ports and on vessels to avoid human-to-human contact.


Use of Advanced Fabrics and materials for Port Workers and Seafarers


As we all know it is suffocating to work in PPEs, so efforts could be made to make dresses, overall, and uniforms of seafarers with advanced fabrics so that they are safe and less exposed to the virus. Companies like Sonovia: Israel-based start-up has come forward with the idea of manufacturing clothes with aid of anti-pathogen, anti-viral and anti-bacterial fabrics that relies on metal-oxide nanoparticles. The coating of such metal-oxide nanoparticles on uniforms, shoes, overalls, helmets and all other wearables would lead to safer conditions.


Arvind, an Indian-based textile company has collaborated with Switzerland-based textile innovator HeiQ material AG and Taiwanese Jintex Corporation to introduce antiviral technology “Virolock” for the first time in India in the suiting and shirting category through its brand “Intellifabrix”. The same could be done in processing and manufacturing wearables of seafarers and workers associated with ports as antiviral coating and fabrics are capable of giving morphological change or structural damage to the surface protein of the virus.


The organic antiviral chemicals change the structure and make it ineffective by altering surface protein structure by chemical adsorption while the inorganic metallic antiviral destroys or changes the morphology of the virus by the extraction of a hydrogen atom in the virus protein by OH radicals which is generated by the radical reaction. These inorganic metallic materials can be used to coat the areas and the materials that are most vulnerable and prone to human interaction and human-to-human contact like the railings of staircases, tools used, gadgets used frequently, etc.


Installation of UV Light Machines on Ships


There are specifically three types UVA, UVB, and UVC. Out of these, UVC is a dull part of the UV spectrum consisting of a shorter but more energetic wavelength. UVC is typically good at destroying genetic material in humans as well as viral material. As the ozone layer filters out the UV rays, we have hardly witnessed any such destruction of genetic material in us.


In 1878, scientists found that they could harness artificial UVC Rays and it has become a method of sterilization in hospitals, at airports et cetera, sanitize drinking water since then. Researchers have claimed that UVC rays could be used to disinfect used PPEs and sterilization purposes in concern of containing the spread of the Corona Virus as the UVC radiation wrap the genetic structure of viral materials and prevent them from spreading and growing. Scientists are still working on the exact amount and exposure of UV rays required to kill the coronavirus as it depends upon the size and shape of Coronavirus.


The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported that ultraviolet light probably can kill the coronavirus. "UV light has been shown to destroy other coronaviruses, so it will probably work on the novel coronavirus," the website reads. This includes the deadly Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus, aka MERS-CoV, and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus, or SARS. In China, a concentrated form of UVC is being used in china for cleaning floors in hospitals through UVC-emitting robots while lights are being used to disinfect their money.


To use UVC, one needs specialist machinery and equipment with proper skillset and training. Shipping companies can inhibit the use of UVC rays through the installation of lamps or UVC emitting robots along with imparting proper knowledge and training to use these machines. Installations of such equipment can be used for:

  • Sterilize PPEs and uniforms used by the workers on board.
  • Disinfect floorings and other working areas.
  • Disinfect the daily use equipment such as radio sets, walkie-talkies, fire alarms et cetera which are the most vulnerable and prone to human contact.
  • Disinfect dining and living area.


Remote Maritime Inspection and Surveys


In an era where pandemic like COVID 19 has proven human-to-human interaction a hazard and safe distancing, one of the major steps to contain the spread; remote inspection and surveys are needful and useful for the efficient running of ships. Surveys with the help of documentaries, live streaming, and video conferencing can prove worthy for lessening the human-to-human interaction of surveyors and seafarers on board. Conducting surveys at a place with a lower threat of the coronavirus with proper sanitation facilities could also be of great help.


The US Coast Guard is currently encouraging its surveyors and inspectors to use remote methods to verify vessel compliance. According to the new guidance, all US-flagged ships that are due for the annual inspection, COI renewal, internal structure, or dry dock examinations can get their surveys done through remote methods based on documentary evidence. Alternative evidence that can be presented to Officer In Charge of Marine Inspection is recent classification surveys, photographs, Videos, vessel logs, and machinery alarm reports. Two of the largest maritime groups: the American Bureau of Shipping and DNVI GL have been gripping remote surveys and inspection technology. DNV GL called out its first remote survey program in October 2018. A team of remote DNV GL surveyors can provide support to vessels using documentation, pictures, recorded or live streaming videos, and input provided by the owner and the crew onboard via the streaming link and internet connection, and some periodical survey items can also be handled similarly, subject to flag acceptance, DNV GL says.


While the American Bureau of Shipping has its unique survey framework. It offers drydocking extensions and radio renewals in its remote survey and plans to add more services through its remote program in the near future.


Leveraging remote surveys based on digital applications and the internet would limit disruptions to logistics operations resulting from the international travel ban, lockdown, and quarantine. The industry would get more efficient as the ship owners and operators would receive immediate e-certificates, permits, renewals dealing with authorities, class, and vendors.


Drone and Aerial Vehicles in Maritime Shipping

Drone delivery can be introduced to ships and on ports to deliver necessary medications and other essentials without any intervention of human interaction and touch increasing the risk and exposure to the coronavirus. Not only limited to deliver supplies but drones can also be used for infrastructure surveillance at ports and shipment areas, to see the proper execution of safe distancing mandates and thermal imaging of the personnel and report any variability indicating Corona Virus.

Terra Drone is using its drones to supply medical and quarantine supplies with the least amount of risk Xinchang County’s disease control center and the People’s Hospital in China. A start-up named F Drones has done the first commercial authorized beyond-visual-line-of-sight BVLOS drone delivery to ships in Singapore where it delivered 2 kg of vitamins over 3 km approximately in 7 minutes to a ship operated by Eastern Pacific Shipping.

“These traditional means of transport are expensive, slow, labor, and carbon-intensive. F-drones’ solutions can help save up to 80% of the costs, time, and CO2 emissions. Besides being efficient, delivery drones can also reduce unnecessary human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Nicolas Ang, CEO of F-drones.

Drones aided with bots with UVC Lights aided with programmed AI can also be used for sterilization and disinfecting purposes without human contact. The concept of Urban Air mobility is a very good alternative to the traditional method of delivering goods in an era where the world is hit by pollution, traffic congestion, and urgency to follow safe distancing and avoid human contact.

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