Essentially speaking

At the moment there are two types of maritime companies. Those that are seen to provide essential services or products, and those that do not. We have applauded those that continue to risk their own health to provide a lifeline of services and products to the sector – but the reality is that these companies have been given an economic lifeline that many others cannot hang on to.

And as some companies scramble to motivate for the status of an essential service provider – it gives us an opportunity to reflect on this as a concept not only for companies, but for job descriptions as a whole.

The maritime industry has for some time talked about disruptors and their potential impact on employment as well as the more pressing need to produce certain skills at the expense of those that may face being phased out.

We all pointed to maritime interventions based on technological advancements, but the world has just been systematically disrupted by a microscopic virus that may see the adoption of these interventions being accelerated.

Consider the unique plight that seafarers are currently facing as ports clamp down on crew changes. Certainly shipowners may be considering the advantages of automated vessels even more keenly.

Consider too the fact that some of the smaller companies may realise the benefits of their staff working remotely as protocols are successfully implemented to keep businesses in operation during a lockdown period and employees show an affinity to self motivate. A business seeking to recoup any losses may suddenly see expenses relating to an office set-up as redundant. No office means no cleaning staff and possibly no receptionist as well as other non-core workers.

Consider the potential use of drones to deliver supplies to passing vessels. It’s already happening on a small scale on an experimental basis, but as capacity develops and it becomes viable for a greater variety of loads – the need for small vessel operators to race out with urgent supplies will certainly diminish. The need for skippers and their crews will lessen.

Consider the negative impact this virus may have had on the cruise sector. Seen as a potential growth sector in Africa, it will now have to contend with the justifiable fears of potential passengers who watched port after port deny disembarkation amid worries of bringing the virus ashore.

Consider the number of conferences, seminars and workshops that have been cancelled or moved into the digital space. Eliminating a venue concurrently eliminates the need for catering, technical and ground staff. Some maritime conferences organisers have quickly introduced digital offerings that provide both the content and the networking opportunities that were only deemed viable within the confines of a conference room setting.

When the sea calms after this COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is going to be essential to recoup the economic activity that was lost. It is going to be essential to commit to job retention and even growth.

It is going to be essential to get back to business as usual BUT it is more important now than ever before to realise that business as usual cannot mean business as we have always done it.

We will need to take action on the good intentions spewed at every maritime conference relating to collaborative efforts to expand, transform, improve and diversify the maritime sectors. All this needs to be accomplished in the face of fighting for our own organisation’s survival.

Communication, information sharing and transparency will be key and as a maritime journalist I believe that a relevant, critical and investigative maritime media space will be even more essential than ever.