FIATA urges governments to keep ports open


The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) has urged governments to act to ensure that ports remain open to allow the freight and logistics sector to help tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

FIATA noted that although announcements were already being made about what may be “the largest drop in the volume of shipments in living memory”, international trade and logistics, although severely affected by the international Covid-19 corridors by air, sea and land, “continues to function” – although only just.  

It said decisions by governments to contain the virus “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”, stressing that it is “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”. 

It said decisions to close ports and deny cargo vessels entry in particular “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 to support the medical and resurgence efforts”, adding: “It will be sea freight that will deliver this heavy lifting.” 

FIATA said it supported the comments from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that: 

It is 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 need 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 issues, FIATA said it was “mindful as to the need for a pragmatic approach to issues like crew changeovers, and their movements”. However, it said “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 said the public position of the Port of Long Beach as to vessel operations during this time, regarding vessel discharge and loading, “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.” 

It said not considering the intended or unintended consequences of such a decision may leave Brisbane in 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”. 

Tipping point

FIATA continued: “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 said it supported the work of the IMO as the lead industry association to coordinate a coalition to initiate 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”.

FIATA concluded: “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.”

FIATA is a non-governmental organisation that represents an industry covering approximately 40,000 forwarding and logistics firms, employing around 10 million people in some 160 countries.