Signs of recovery -

Signs of recovery

01 Feb 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on the shipping market: in the immediate term, we have seen a decline in demand for seaborne transport, a drop in orders for new buildings, a frozen cruise ship sector, and some difficult conditions for the ro-ro passenger market.

But despite the disruption from the virus, the shipping market has proved remarkably resilient. Ultimately, world seaborne trade dropped by less than 4% during 2020, while demand is expected to grow by nearly 5% in 2021, potentially rising above pre-Covid levels.

The greatest increase is expected to come in the oil, products and gas sectors, although improvements are starting to filter through in all markets. It appears that the worst impact of Covid-19 may have passed for shipping, and quicker than initially expected. At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated some important trends. In particular, it has hastened the digitalisation of shipping and the ‘remotisation’ of survey activity, complementing the traditional method of shipboard visits.

Technology is playing an increasingly important role. RINA recently installed a pioneering Fleet Operation Centre (FOC) at its Greek headquarters in Piraeus comprising a data monitoring and analysis platform which will extract value and business insight from ship data, helping shipowners make better strategic decisions.

Meanwhile, video technology is offering surveyors the chance to inspect ships at a distance, as well as train staff remotely. RINA is also using wearable devices such as ‘smart helmets’ to enable people on board to interact with people ashore. Meantime, solutions have also been developed to combat the risk of virus infections on board. RINA has developed a goalbased class notation BIOSAFE SHIP, the first additional class notation devoted to this matter and the Biosafe Ship Notation and Biosafety Trust Certification, the first system certification to mitigate the spread of infections in public places. These provide reassurance that the highest health and safety standards have been followed.

Amid the disruption from Covid-19, some other important issues affecting ship operations received less attention. The introduction of the obligatory onboard IHM inventory meant thousands of existing ships had to cope with this new regulation (see article on HazMat) and will now have to maintain and update this documentation through their operational lives.

Going forward, shipping’s energy transition will undoubtedly be the main topic affecting the industry. The goal is to identify and implement the best approach for shipowners and operators, which both meets the 2030 target set by IMO and offers the best solution in technical and economic terms, and recent developments in the industry including the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and Carbon Intensity Indicators (CII) will help push this forward.

Indeed, the forthcoming energy revolution partly explains last year’s decline in ordering activity, as many owners chose to wait before committing to new vessels at a time of rapidly changing technology. It is an exciting time for the industry, which is going full speed ahead to develop tomorrow’s fuel sources, despite the additional challenges created by the pandemic.