India’s Surge in Infections Rocks the International Shipping Industry
Dry bulk and tanker shipping for outbound and inbound trade to India have become expensive due to the recent coronavirus outbreak in India. The country is one of the major exporters of dry bulk commodities and refined products such as salt, steel, pellets, and iron ore. India also imports significant volumes of crude oil, vegetable oils, and coal. Yet, countries around the world have barred ships from berthing at their ports if they arrive from India and have called any Indian port during the last 2 – 4 weeks. For this reason, some shipping companies are seeking premiums for discharging and loading cargoes at Indian ports, resulting in higher transportation costs.
Shortage of Seafarers
International freight forwarding has been hard hit by India’s recent wave of infections. In addition to ports denying entry to ships or crews that have been in Bangladesh or India, seafarers are testing positive for Covid-19 once onboard despite tested negative or quarantining before boarding. Earlier there were ships with one or two infected crew members while today whole ships get infected. This means that vessels are practically being immobilized and stranded.
Together with China and the Philippines, India is one of the countries on which freight forwarders rely for seafarers. Recent estimates show that 240,000 seafarers or 15 percent of all crew are from India. Experts warn about significant supply chain disruptions resulting from ship owners not being able to change crews or call ports. The fact that some ports are often tweaking restrictions and quarantine rules is only adding to the confusion.
A further problem is the fact that test results for crew are not coming through in time for boarding because India’s health system has collapsed. Some companies are temporarily recruiting crew from other countries to replace Indian seafarers who are scheduled to board or are disembarking.
The Way Out of the Crisis
According to shipping industry experts, crew should be prioritized in global vaccination efforts. This is especially important in light of the fact that some countries have already introduced inoculation requirements as a prerequisite for entry.
The good news is that the Indian government is already working with several private organizations to speed up vaccination for crews. The goal is to vaccinate seafarers before their next scheduled departure. Efforts are already underway at six major points, including Tuticorin, Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Cochin, and Mumbai. The Indian government also announced plans to shorten the interval between the two shots to 28 days for seafarers. Until now, the interval between the vaccinations has been 84 days. Additionally, charity organization International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network launched a campaign to facilitate access to vaccines for crew members.
Many Indian crews and their families face significant financial hardship and are concerned they might lose their job. Amid a disastrous second wave across the country, an increasing number of seafarers report being unable to get vaccinated for their scheduled departure.