IMO should lead the maritime transport amid the Covid19 pandemic and take immediate measures to ensure the transport of the essential goods

By, Reza Karimpuor

IMO HQ London

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the international shipping industry is responsible for the carriage of around 90% of world trade (in volume).

According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), there are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy. Without shipping, intercontinental trade, the bulk transport of raw materials, the import/export of affordable food, manufactured cargoes, and medical goods would simply not be possible. Therefore, international shipping has a vital role in the world, and this role is crucial amid the global crisis such as the Covid19 pandemic.

Coronavirus is a resilience test for both the international shipping industry and the global supply chains. Many officials have warned that a protracted pandemic could strain global supply chains, thereby impacting shipping services, ports, retailers and others. IMO as the international organization that regulates international shipping, has to take some serious measures amid this pandemic to guarantee the flow of cargo and the global supply chain. According to the official website of the IMO, this organization has already developed some guidelines, briefly not fully listed at the end of this page, which seems not to be enough at all !

In my opinion, the guidelines developed by the IMO by now, are not sufficient counter-measures to tackle this pandemic. Unfortunately, it seems that IMO has lost its position as the master of the ship in leading global maritime transport in these hard days. Looking at the set of circulars, we can see many of them are just simple guidelines, not binding the member states in the implementation and enforcement of the pandemic-related circulars. In addition, many bits of advice are even issued late, when the activities and services of the most ports and shipping companies around the world have been already affected by the spread of Corona Virus.

What further is proposed to be done by the IMO amid this pandemic?

Looking at the objectives of the IMO, and the available resources of this organization, I recommend a set of actions to be taken, some of them to be binding :

  1. Setting binding rules to provide the seafarers with  Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) approved by the WHO to protect them against the Coronavirus infection. It could be achieved by amendments to the MLC 2006  conventions, the parts related to the living condition of the ship personnel. It obliges the Flag States and shipping companies to protect the lives of the seafarers in this pandemic.
  2. Encouraging and pushing the Member States to accept the Covid19 seafarer patients at the ships’ ports of calls. The states should disembark and transfer the Corona infected or suspected to corona infection of seafarers to the nearest hospitals, keeping in our mind that without seafarers no ship will be running around the world to provide us with essential items like food, medical goods, and petrol.
  3. Conducting an immediate “study on the impact of the Corona pandemic on the seaborne trade with a  focus on risk-mitigation strategy “with the help of other UN bodies, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), European Union,  maritime universities and researchers not only to evaluate the current situation but also to predict the future of shipping based on the current trends in different scenarios (scenario1: if the pandemic lasts for six months, scenario2: if the pandemic lasts for one year, …). The study may also include at the end a section dedicated to ” What awaits us once the emergency is over: threats and opportunities”.
  4. Considering the cancellation of classes in many maritime/marine institutes and academies, IMO should proceed to design and offer a standard format of maritime E-Learning (regarding the STCW Conventions – programs’ syllabus) to maintain enough number of ship officers in the maritime industry. It can be achieved through consultation with the successful e-learning ongoing programs in academic entities such as the International Association of Maritime Universities (IAMU), World Maritime University (WMU), IMSSEA, … and/or according to the training sections of Classification Societies, especially the members of the  International Association of Classification Societies( IACS).
  5. IMO must take the lead of the “Command Center” that collects, analyses, and updates all the relevant information of this pandemic within the maritime transport industry. The digital platform of such a center can be hosted on the Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) platform of the IMO, with an icon name of “MarCovid19”.
  6. Suspension of the Sulphur Cap2020 (for example for a period of six months) to ensure no lack of the fuel bunker for all ships moving around the world. Many petrochemicals have already reduced their activities, and some of them planning to stop not only due to this pandemic but also due to the recent low prices of crude oil. In this condition, providing the 0.5% sulphur fuel oil bunker to the ships for the consumption in main propulsion and auxiliary machinery such as diesel generators and steam boilers will be more difficult. Furthermore, in recent days, we have faced a significant improvement in the air quality of our planet, as this pandemic has led to a considerable decrease in other modes of transport; air, road, and rail around the world. Therefore, there should be fewer worries about ships emission !
  7. Encouraging the big shipping companies to join a global scheme in order to use the free capacity of passenger ships and also cruise ships to be used as temporary hospital facilities to treat non-COVI19  or  COVI19 patients.


The above lines are the personal comments of the writer, not reflecting the views of the ONtheMosways of the Sea.


The summary of the list of measures announced on the official  website of the IMO:

  • On 19 March, the IMO Secretary-General stresses vital need to maintain commerce by sea and protect seafarers’ welfare in face of coronavirus shut down.
  •  Circular Letter No.4204/Add.5 (17 March 2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance relating to the certification of seafarers
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.4 (5 March 2020) contains ICS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for ship operators for the protection of the health of seafarers
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.3 (2 March 2020) – Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak onboard ships
    Circular Letter No.4204/Add.2 (21 February 2020) contains the Joint Statement IMO-WHO on the Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak
  • Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1  (19 February 2020) provides advice on implementation and enforcement of relevant IMO instruments
    Circular Letter No.4203.Add.1 (12 February 2020) provides information and guidance on the precautions to be taken to minimize risks to delegates
  • Circular Letter No.4204 (31 January 2020) providing information and guidance, based on recommendations developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), on the precautions to be taken to minimize risks to seafarers, passengers, and others on board ships from the coronavirus.


Reza Karimpuor

Source Reza Karimpuor

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