Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has poured quicksand into the gears of the global economy, many essential workers have continued to go into their workplaces and have been instrumental in keeping the economy running. Amongst these are the seafarers who serve as crew on ships and play a critical role in moving goods and natural resources around the world.
Unfortunately, as governments have sealed borders and imposed travel restrictions, and airlines have dramatically scaled back their operations, there have been many harrowing stories of crew stranded for weeks or even months onboard vessels, at airports and in hotels. In July, the International Transport Workers' Federation estimated that around 300,000 seafarers are trapped at sea. Meanwhile, the Seafarers Happiness Index, published by The Mission to Seafarers, recorded a drop from 6.30 in Q1 2020 to 6.18 in Q2 2020, as crew have found themselves unable to sign off and return home, while having to cope with enhanced health, safety and security protocols in addition to performing their high stress jobs.
In the travel sector, we have witnessed first-hand the anxiety and emotional turmoil of seafarers trying to get home to their families. At CWT Energy, Resources and Marine, we have been working tirelessly with our clients, airline and hotel partners, and various government agencies around the world to get crew members to work and back home safely. This has involved navigating new visa processes and requirements, as well as stringent entry and quarantine stipulations. We have also helped many clients book charter flights to move people when no commercial flights have been available.
The good news is that things are improving. While in April and May, crew rotations had all but come to a standstill, by June we started seeing an upturn in people being moved onto and off ships. In fact, for one of our clients we observed crew movements in June and July jump significantly higher than the three-year average volume.
During this incredibly challenging period, it has been heartening to companies – even those with competing interests – come together and work towards the betterment of conditions for crew members. For example, in certain instances we have worked collectively with the other travel management companies and their clients to optimize flight capacities and operational costs when booking charter services. More can be done to further this interest by way of closer collaboration between industry peers, leveraging of unique strengths and resources between port and travel agents and other vendors to achieve quicker outcomes that are more robust in challenging situations. Technology must be used effectively to drive better decision making and planning.
If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that it has brought the issue of crew wellbeing to the forefront. It has shone the spotlight on a fragmented maritime industry grappling with legacy challenges and forced it into action. We are seeing a paradigm shift in behavior and perception towards essential workers, and with deeper conversations on this issue we can achieve positive outcomes for seafarers that will last far beyond this crisis.