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Seafreight - The heavy lift

Zurich, 25 March 2020 - While announcements are already being made of what may be the largest drop in the volume of shipments in living memory, international trade, that has been severely affected by the international Covid-19 corridors by air, sea and land, logistics, continues to function, although in a tenuously. 

With attempts to contain the virus decisions taken by governments need to address the consequences of a complete halt to trade and the short- and long-term effect such decisions will have on their economies and their citizens. As it is in fact this logistic chain that will bring the much need medical support and equipment, in the first instance, and key rebuild items in the second wave. The decisions to the close ports and deny cargo vessels in particular entry needs careful consideration as to the long-term viability of the shipping industry and its ability, in the first instance, to work in overcoming Convid-19 and support to the medical and resurgence efforts. It will be sea freight that will deliver on this heavy lifting!

The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) notes and supports the comments from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that:

“It is, therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted.  At the same time, the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment must also remain paramount. 

” ... all IMO Member States to bear this in mind when framing their policy decisions with regard to the coronavirus. Defeating the virus must be the first priority, but global trade, in a safe, secure and environmentally friendly manner must be able to continue, too.”

On these issue FIATA is mindful as to the need for a  pragmatic approach to issues like crew changeovers, and their movements however if international airlines can have crew changeovers handled  appropriately (noting that the technical and cabin crew numbers on an A380 long haul   flight will be at or about the same level as a mid-size container vessel) then clearly a vessel’s crew can be contained and isolated accordingly. The link between vessel and land side operations can be handled and monitored accordingly.

FIATA sees that the public position of the Port of Long Beach as to vessel operations during this time as vessel discharge/load is the way the logistics chain should be addressed. Contrast that with the position of the Maritime Safety Queensland to close the Port of Queensland a decision that clearly had not been addressed with industry participants. As to the intended or unintended consequence of such a decision perhaps leaving Brisbane for the future with constrained sailings (and with few lines operating on a marginal route abandoning that poor calls altogether) shows the way not to proceed.

Some shipping lines are, at this time, at a tipping point as to financial viability and the loss of a major carrier will create severe disruption. It is now, as to the future viability of economies, that key players in government and the logistics industry need to come together to address these operational demands. FIATA supports the work of the IMO as the lead industry association to coordinate this coalition to, as stated by its Director General in his recent Media Release:

” I will personally be initiating a series of meetings and consultations with leaders from shipping, ports and other key related sectors so that we can all better understand the issues being faced and develop sensible, practical and unified solutions.”

In view of the threat posed by the Coronavirus to the viability of the sea freight industry, FIATA looks forward to supporting the IMO on this initiative and work jointly to elaborate practical solutions to the current challenges we are facing.

Media Contact

Stéphane Graber | FIATA Director General

+41 43 211 6500 | [email protected] 


FIATA, the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations, was founded in Vienna, Austria on May 31st 1926.  It is a non-governmental organisation that today represents an industry covering approximately 40,000 forwarding and logistics firms, employing around 10 million people in some 160 countries. FIATA has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations (inter alia ECE, ESCAP, ESCWA, etc.), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) as well as many other UN related bodies, e.g. the World Bank. It is recognised as representing the freight forwarding industry by many other governmental organisations, governmental authorities, private international organisations in the field of transport and logistics, such as the European Commission (through CLECAT), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the World Customs Organization (WCO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), etc.

For further information, please go to: www.fiata.com

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