The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone in some way, whether you’ve been hit by the illness directly or you’ve had to cancel plans due to travel restrictions. But some industries have been hit harder than others.
In the marine world, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact. Thankfully, businesses and individuals are already starting to adapt to these new circumstances, and in some countries, lockdown restrictions are easing allowing people to return to their boats.
RECREATIONAL MARINE ACTIVITIES AND BOAT BROKERS
While non-essential travel and large gatherings have been banned or advised against in many areas, and many ports have been closed to freighters, many marine activities are still available in some countries so people are still able to go fishing, sailing, or just relaxing on the open water – assuming they’re maintaining safe social distancing habits. In other areas, restrictions are making it difficult or impossible to engage in these activities. Recreational marine activities are often solitary or reliant on small numbers of people and are a great way to relax during this enormously stressful time. It’s also a way to get some fresh air if you’ve been stuck inside too long.
It is very welcome news that many countries are starting to ease lockdown restrictions. On 13th May, for example, the UK government released new guidelines that permit water sports to resume in England:
“All forms of water sports practiced on open waterways, including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, kayaking, surfing, paddle-boarding and the use of privately-owned motorised craft (in line with the guidance issued by the relevant navigation authority) are allowed.”
There are a few caveats such as maintaining social distancing, restricting boat use to day-trips as overnight stays are not yet permitted and restrictions on who you can go with. It is also worth noting that these lockdown changes only apply to England, not the UK as a whole, as the devolved leadership of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are managing their lockdown strategies independently.
Boat and yacht brokers are adapting to address the challenges of lockdown. In some countries, brokers are still unable to visit, tour, and inspect boats with prospective buyers in person, making it harder to close deals. Online portals, like Omega Water Marine, are helping to close the gap by offering richer, fuller details on the vessels they’re selling – reducing the need for an in-person tour. In some cases, you can even take a virtual tour of the boat you’re looking to buy.
Marine surveyors are also trying to quickly adapt. Marine surveyors are currently unable to travel across borders to accomplish their work, and in some areas, may not be able to visit boats in person to conduct surveys. This has led to logistical disruptions and has forced surveyors to begin rethinking their approach – and in some cases, their entire careers. But as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, things will become easier.
For many years, the marine shipping sector has been strongly linked to China. Not only has China been a major trade partner worldwide, it’s also been an important global figure in shipbuilding. China, of course, was the origin point of the novel coronavirus responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19 and experienced the worst impact from the disease much earlier than other countries around the world.
Early on, China only began to see a slight fall in demand; ports in both China and nearby countries started operating at a somewhat limited capacity, but this was not unusual, due to it also being Chinese New Year. However, after the spread of the illness became more apparent, ports in nearby countries like South Korea and Japan began to shut down and quarantine Chinese crews to limit the spread of the virus.
Since then, Chinese shipping has been hit by its nationwide ban on all non-essential travel. On top of that, many of China’s employees have been directly or indirectly affected by the spread of the virus, reducing the number of people available to build ships.
Oil shipping has also experienced a massive hit, as worldwide demand for oil has plummeted. Demand for Chinese crude tankers averaged 3.4 billion tonne miles per day in 2019; now, it’s nearly zero. Container shipping is highly tied to various types of economic activity throughout the world, and it’s also taken a major hit. These effects have spread throughout the world, resulting in multi-year lows for shipping businesses everywhere.
That said, there are hints of shipping beginning to turn around. The number of container ship journeys originating in China is starting to rise, and travel restrictions are starting to ease in several countries. While it remains to be seen whether these restriction easements will last, it appears that the worst effects on the shipping industry may be behind us.
Demand is still incredibly low, but shipping authorities are using this as a catalyst for change. Leaders in the industry are pushing for digital and technological advancements in the shipping industry that could introduce the use of data analytics, powerful AI, automation via drones, and better end-to-end supply chain management. Ultimately, it could be a positive transformation for the industry.
In addition to the economic complexity of limited shipping demand, many countries are now dealing with port congestion. Lockdowns and restricted movement have brought a halt to many conventional forms of economic activity; people are going to physical retail stores much less frequently. Accordingly, retailers and manufacturers no longer have warehouse room to pick up or store cargo, so their containers become abandoned. On top of that, some ports have reduced their workforce, increasing the severity of this cargo congestion.
The effects of this dilemma are already starting to be seen. The supply chain has been disrupted, limiting the movement of essential goods, like food. Companies are scrambling to figure out a solution, such as temporary additional storage measures.
The cruise industry has also taken a hit. Cruise ships have been a hotbed of infection for two main reasons: first, they bring diverse groups of travelers together. People from all over the country, and possibly all over the world, may congregate on a single cruise ship. If they all get infected, they return home to radically increase the spread of the illness. Second, these travelers are forced together in close quarters for an extended period of time, making infection more likely.
The U.S. government has issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and all cruise travel has been advised to be deferred. As of the time of this article’s writing, this order is in effect until July 24. In other words, the entire cruise industry has come screeching to a halt.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in some bad press for the cruise industry. A handful of high-profile cases of outbreaks on cruise ships and long-term quarantines will likely remain in the public’s memory for some time.
Major cruise companies have taken a significant hit in the wake of the pandemic, and a recovery doesn’t appear to be immediately likely. That said, major cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise are poised to survive this pandemic. These companies are taking extensive cost-cutting measures and are trying to adapt to these new circumstances. Their long-term survival will depend on the expiration of the No Sail Order and their own adaptability.
UNCERTAINTY AND THE FUTURE
The biggest general concern about the pandemic is its uncertainty. We aren’t sure how long the lockdowns will last. We aren’t sure when ports will be reopened. And we aren’t even sure if demand for things like cruise ships and container shipping will ever be the same.
That said, companies are already adapting, and individuals are making the best of this situation, however they can. If you’re interested in getting out of the house and onto the water, make sure to check out our wide selection of yachts and boats for sale.