Numerous reports of lost cargoes at sea are badly affecting the world supply chains, especially the retailers and manufacturers such as Amazon and Tesla. A wide array of reasons from bad weather and heavily stacked carriers are subjecting shipments to risks. However, the glaring situation of the exhausted crew remains neglected.
Urgencies resulting in emergencies
Pandemic-induced lockdowns and travel restrictions resulted in new consumer habits. A surge in online shopping heightened shipping companies’ urgency to deliver the products on time. Shipping experts said the need for speed is creating precarious conditions that can cause disasters. The dangers range from stevedores incorrectly locking boxes on top of one another, to captains not deviating from a storm to save fuel and time as they face pressure from charterers. One wrong move can put both cargoes and crew at risk.
The chances for mishaps are increasing as exhausted seafarers face deteriorating conditions during the pandemic. Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty estimates that human error contributes to at least 75 per cent of shipping industry accidents and fatalities. The sea route connecting Asia’s economies to consumers in North America was the most lucrative for shipping companies last year.
Despite bad weather, the rise in traffic from China to the U.S. last winter coincided with the strongest winds over the Northern Pacific since 1948, increasing the likelihood of rougher seas and bigger waves, said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at The Weather Company. Many experts observed the situation grew more dangerous because of pressure on supply chains since the pandemic. When ships encounter heavy weather, captains have the option to steer away from the danger.
Worn out crew and bad decisions
Jonathan Ranger, head of marine Asia Pacific at American International Group Inc., noted: “The attitude however was ‘do not go around the storm, go through’. Pair that with poor maintenance of twistlocks and cabling required to secure these boxes – it is an accident waiting to happen.”
“Overworked crews also heighten the risks. Reduced manpower onboard with an increased number of cargoes makes it increasingly difficult to check every single bar and screw effectively,” said Neil Wiggins, managing director of Independent Vessel Operations Services Ltd.
Philip Eastell, founder of Container Shipping Supporting Seafarers, observed: “There is also the health and safety of the seafarers at stake. The toppling of multiple tiers of 40-foot boxes during a raging storm is one of the most terrifying experiences for a captain and crew. Post-traumatic stress disorder among crew is common.”
“Traffic on the seas is different today. How do we adapt as an industry? It is convenient to blame the captain, but we need to look at how the port infrastructure needs to change and how ships transit,” Rajesh Unni of Synergy Marine Group highlighted.