Business

2020 COVID Crisis Complicates Shipping Agent Shift Changes for Caribbean Ports

The novel Covid-19 virus has hit each corner of the world as economies bounce up and down due to recent layoffs and new traveling guidelines and restrictions. March and April saw a handful of complicated uncertainties within the shipping workforce, and at the peak of the Coronavirus outbreak, many mariners and ship crews were denied entry into ports across the world as homeward bound ships turned into floating quarantines. unexpected scenarios popped up and shipping agents worked diligently to configure workable solutions for clients.

Inchcape shipping agent, Joanna Walker, experienced firsthand the complications that arose from COVID port restrictions on the island of St. Croix in the USVI. Having thought that the restrictions would be lifted after some time, the prolonged Caribbean ship suspension required Walker to come up with immediate solutions that would advance the much-needed shift changes for fatigued shipping crews.

“It was totally unexpected and it’s been a huge challenge, scrambling to adapt while trying to continue to provide the best services for customers,” Walker said in an interview with The Maritime Executive.

Walker was on the front lines of communicating the unfortunate news to ship captains and crews who waited patiently to return to land. Flights were coordinated and canceled, during the peak of the Coronavirus outbreak, leaving even longer wait times for replacement crews to arrive. Crew members on board were also tested before entering port, and one shipmate even tested positive for the virus. However, the sailor remained non-symptomatic while the ship was underway. It’s suspected that he may have caught the virus unknowingly months before the outbreak.

Another seafarer had been underway for 392 days straight, and was glad to finally return home after the long and exacerbated period at sea. Crews on both sides of the shift transition were eventually tested before their arrivals and flight departures due to the teamwork and effective communications brought to the table by Walker and her team.

As ships awaited permission for port entry and oncoming crews were assembled and tested for the virus, Walker had to double-time while coordinating COVID tests with the Clinical Laboratories in St.Croix as well as remaining in contact with Customs Border Patrol (CBP).

Shipping agents like Walker take on unexpected workloads and new challenges that have popped up within the shipping agency during the Coronavirus outbreak. Walker credits adaptability and teamwork for solving complicated crew change issues.

“Few people see how much work it takes to pull off what seems impossible. But it’s important to remember we aren’t alone; as an Inchcape agent especially, I can pick up the phone and call any of our offices around the world and speak to someone who understands,” Walker says.

As shipping agents worldwide pull together to coordinate with medical and customs agencies, Inchcape’s dedication to networking solutions for the shipping industry remains strongly united. Teamwork is essential for battling the obstacles caused by the Coronavirus, and maritime transportation is adapting through the time sensitive struggles.

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