The words “new normal” have become something of a cliché in predictions for a post pandemic world but there is little doubt that global sea freight transport is likely to be very different for some years to come.
Even before countries started closing their borders and taking other measures to protect citizens from Coronavirus the sea freight industry was facing pressures.
Much of the pressure relates to concern by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) about the industry’s impact on the environment and specifically its use of sulphur oxides which is harmful and is considered to be the cause many premature deaths.
From January 2020 the IMO had imposed new emissions standards designed to significantly curb pollution produced by the world’s ships which will be no small feat given estimates that more than 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.
To achieve this target, it proposed to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulphur content higher than 0.5%, compared to the present upper limit level of 3.5%.
The challenge is immense since the commonly used marine fuel has a sulphur content of around 2.7%.
The move is generally predicted to be likely to add to shipping costs.
However, an even more significant factor has come into play with the advent of Coronavirus which has highlighted individual countries’ vulnerability to their dependence on global supply chains.
As a result, there have been calls for a revival in UK manufacturing and the onshoring of the manufacture and processing of critical products, such as medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, among others.
At the same time, there have been calls from more than 200 top UK firms and investors who demanding that government deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises environmental initiatives that tackle climate change and propel a “green” economy.
It has been argued, notably in an article in the Economist, that globalisation was “in trouble” even before the pandemic took hold.
Then, argues Prof Richard Portes, professor of economics at London Business School, “Once supply chains were disrupted [by coronavirus], people started looking for alternative suppliers at home, even if they were more expensive.
“If people find domestic suppliers, they will stick with them… because of those perceived risks.”
While inevitably there will be a need for global sea freight transport once things return to ”normal” it would seem likely that the volume of freight moved by sea will be considerably reduced.