Coronavirus: Governments must let shipping keep on shipping
Putting draconian restrictions on vessels calling from high-incidence countries may seem an obvious and attractive no-brainer response to inevitable public clamour to ‘do something’. It should be rejected
Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy. Precautions and risk mitigation are, of course essential, but an ill-considered, media-driven, semi-superstitious panic that brings shipping to a standstill would be major mistake
SHIPPING can keep world trade flowing for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. But only if governments let it.
Putting draconian restrictions on vessels calling from high-incidence countries may seem an obvious and attractive no-brainer response to inevitable public clamour to ‘do something’.
It should be rejected; cargoes don’t transmit coronavirus.
Shipping is the basic industry to the basic industries. Without what we do, many other business sectors simply will not be able to do what they do.
No surprise, then, that when Donald Trump was forced into an instant U-turn after proclaiming in a televised address to the nation that trade was included in his 30-day ban on incoming travel from Europe. That is precisely the sort of gaffe that embarrasses serious politicians.
A comparison with the more measured stance adopted by the equally populist government of Italy is instructive. Even as it put the entire country under lockdown, ports were specifically enjoined to remain operational.
Let us shout out loud that keeping the economic arteries open should be a priority, perhaps second only to containing and delaying the spread of the coronavirus itself.
Not the least of the penalties for failing to do so is the immediate danger of ubiquitous shortages of basic foodstuffs. This is especially the case for countries such as Britain, which long ago eschewed the protectionist case for self-sufficiency in agriculture.
It would take only slightly longer for the broader economic consequences to kick in. The risk of quasi-total shutdown is real, with all the attendant ramifications for employment and prosperity.
Meanwhile, crews should not be penalised for doing their jobs. While denial of shore leave is so far documented in only a handful of instances, seafarer charities are right to fear that the trend will inevitably grow.
The irony is — as Matthias Ristau of Deutsche Seemannsmission pointed out — there is mathematically more chance of seafarers picking up the disease in Germany than the dissipated patrons of Hamburg’s famously rambunctious watering holes picking up the disease from seafarers.
In short, ships may have been the main carriers of the Black Death in 1348, but there are no good grounds for expecting a repeat performance with coronavirus in 2020.
Cancel the sports fixtures, give the kids an additional fortnight off school. Get white-collar workers working remotely. Kick hand sanitiser and testing kit factories into overdrive.
But an ill-considered, media-driven, semi-superstitious panic that brings shipping to a standstill would be major mistake.