- Wah Kwong Maritime Transport said its application rates were dropping for the first time in decades.
- At the start of the pandemic, more than 200,000 sailors were stranded at sea.
- Waiting ports and COVID-19 restrictions threaten the morale of crews who carry 90% of all cargo.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc among shipping crews across the globe – and a Hong Kong-based shipping company warns it could lead to a shortage of sailors.
Wah Kwong Maritime Transport, a private shipping company, told Bloomberg that crew retention and wage inflation have made it difficult for ships to staff. William Fairclough, managing director of Wah Kwong, told the publication that demands for work on their freighters were declining for the first time in nearly 70 years of history.
âFor some types of ships it can become very difficult to find the crew and you can have delays because of it,â Fairclough said.
Shipping has long been an attractive industry, especially for workers in poorer countries, where shipping represents an opportunity to earn up to 10 times the average income in countries like the Philippines. But, the pandemic could have changed the industry for the worse.
Fairclough said wages have risen alongside shipping risks since the start of the pandemic, as sailors wait outside backward ports and travel to countries with higher coronavirus infection rates.
U.S. Merchant Navy Bryan Boyle told Insider his job became increasingly difficult at the start of the pandemic because the crew were not allowed to get off the ship when it was docked and spent months in isolation at sea.
“Sometimes it felt like you were in a prison when you were there,” he said. âIt was really tough being in this industry during the pandemic. Many ships were not allowed to eat with their teammates or go to the gym. You were only allowed in your bedroom or workspace. “
Over the past two years, COVID-19 has created a “humanitarian crisis” for crews working to deliver 90% of the world’s goods. At first, the pandemic prevented captains from rotating tired crews and stranded more than 200,000 sailors at sea.
Boyle told Insider that many of the crew turned to online shopping during the pandemic – the internet and the packages they would receive at their next stop, their only connection to the outside world. Bloomberg reported last month that container ship captains were increasingly concerned about maintaining crew morale as sailors wait weeks outside ports.
Even before the pandemic, a Yale University maritime survey found that about a quarter of Merchant Marines struggled with feelings of isolation and depression at sea.
Boyle told Insider that life at sea has great potential for companionship, but it’s easy to fall into patterns of isolation.
âYou only have about 22 people on board with you. So a lot of your experience depends on how well you get along with these people,â Boyle said. “They can quickly become close friends with whom you throw game nights or work out together in the gym – or they can hang out on their iPhones, being alone.”
A survey of 1,200 sailors by the U.S. Shipping System Committee’s COVID-19 Working Group over the summer found feelings of anxiety and isolation have reached record levels during the pandemic.
In July, trade associations BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) warned that there would be a severe shortage of merchant seamen over the next five years if steps are not taken to increase the number.
“We are well beyond the surplus labor safety net that protects the global supply of food, fuel and medicine,” ICS secretary general Guy told Reuters. Platten. “Without urgent action by governments, the supply of seafarers will run out.”