This time of the year is always a good opportunity to consider lessons learned and set new year’s resolutions for a new start. Our special column Industry Voices: ‘Goodbye 2020, hello 2021’ aims to provide an overview of this challenging year and set new targets for 2021 to move forward.
In this context, we have asked Captain Hari Subramaniam, Regional Head – Business Relations, Shipowners’ Club, to make an assessment of 2020 from his perspective and share his message for the new year across the global community. Among others, he sees a positive outlook for the new year, highlighting how important is that industry’s stakeholders have shown resilience during such difficult times.
It’s time to open our eyes to the fact that automation isn’t a complementary substitute for reduction of manning levels onboard.
SAFETY4SEa: Focusing on your area of expertise, what were the most important industry development(s) within 2020?
Capt. Hari Subramaniam: 2020 has been a rollercoaster year and whilst it has been seen by many as one of bad luck and hardships, there have definitely been some positive aspects. One of the most important developments is that 2020 has firmly put the spotlight on Seafarers’ welfare. The seafarer mental health and wellbeing issues, which have been simmering for the past few years has now taken the centre stage. Although not exactly the ideal way for this matter to take cognizance, the events of 2020 have highlighted the harsh environment the seafarer can be exposed to with minimal external support. As a fellow seafarer, I’m very proud to resonate how our seagoing brethren have shown true grit and commitment by persevering for many long months out at sea; often well past their expected tenure on board. It is no doubt they have kept the world economies alive to a large extent when nearly all other industries were at a standstill. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that after all our seafarers are human beings and this effort comes as a hefty price – their health and wellbeing. Today, as we are armed with the good news of the Covid-19 vaccine being available to the public, we must not forget our selfless and sacrificing seafarers who have risen above and beyond the call of duty when it mattered the most. Let’s join hands and show them our meaningful appreciation! It’s time to do our bit.
S4S: Focusing on your area of expertise, what do you think that will be the biggest challenge(s) for the industry in 2021?
Capt. H.S.: Our industry has always thrived on personal interactions and face to face meetings to discuss and finalise on key issues and unfortunately with the setbacks of 2020, this has not been possible. Although things have been ticking using virtual meetings, it isn’t as effective as physical meetings and discussions. This does seem to be the new normal moving forward as given the present scenario, travel and physical meetings don’t seem likely in the near future. Even if travel restrictions are relaxed, there might be some lingering animosity as to whether the participants of the meeting could be carriers of the dreaded virus and hence instead of appreciation, we may be faced with more of apprehension during these meetings. Also, similarly, with travel restrictions in place, crew changes continue to be a major obstacle which would need all shipping Administrations to come together with a unified and simplified mechanism to facilitate a smooth and less onerous process for the same. There has been some progress in this aspect with the United Nations calling for the seafarers to be considered as key workers however for this to be successful, it will require an unanimous and unified effort by all Administrations.
S4S: What is your overall forecast for shipping industry in 2021 and what would you like to share and/or wish and/or ask other industry stakeholders?
Capt. H.S.: Overall, in 2021, I do feel a high level of optimism when I think about the shipping industry. If our Seafarers have exhibited this immense grit, commitment and dedication during these trying times of 2020, then the sky is the limit. Whilst overall we are aware that consequences arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic have taken the toll on the shipping industry, the unified and unanimous resilience shown by all the stakeholders in the industry can only instil confidence that the outlook for 2021 is positive all the way.
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