Nikos Gazelidis, global head of shipping at energy and shipping specialist travel management company (TMC) ATPI Marine & Energy, gives an insight into how companies can navigate the world of travel as lockdown measures ease
The marine and energy sectors have been hugely disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular with port and country lockdowns causing challenges for seaborn supply lines. Exceptionally limited flight availability in many areas of the world has also prevented travel.
People working offshore have commonly been overlooked in government measures to ease the burden of the pandemic, with seafarers being stranded away from home for significantly longer than their contract durations.
As lockdowns begin to ease, and some international travel resumes, there are important considerations for marine and energy businesses as they look forwards. This includes navigating a shortage of airline seat capacity between marine and energy hubs against growing demand. A specialist Travel Management Company (TMC) has the travel industry network – supplier relationships specifically – to make a difference, and can apply this to keeping people safe whilst ensuring that cost control is adequately balanced against duty of care.
The impact of extended contracts during hugely difficult times, meaning people are away from home, is not to be underestimated. Many organisations have enhanced the mental health advice they offer for stranded seafarers, with access to 24/7 telephone counselling now a commonplace tool. These often add-on services are becoming an expected inclusion. As a result of seafarers being stranded at sea, the people due to relieve them have been without work for long periods, also requiring both mental health and financial support from their employers
Seafarers, energy workers and shore-based personnel also need to be prepared for the new procedures they will encounter when travelling, and when working in multiple foreign destinations. Education and training to aid preparation can be one useful step. It is also essential to ensure that country information is regularly updated with the accurate details of what guidelines a traveller must adhere to in order to follow local rules with ports, airports and airlines.
International travel to reach crew change locations has always required several legs to a journey. However, the time-consuming nature of long-haul, multi-leg travel has now greatly increased in complexity. New international arrivals protocols in some destinations see travellers having to wait for results of COVID-19 tests before being able to complete an onward journey. And new hygiene and social distancing measures make airport transit take longer.
Travel managers need to build in significant periods of additional time to a journey, whilst also accounting for traveller fatigue and extensive delays. This makes crew rotation planning tricky, and requires an experienced professional to map out potential scenarios, a response plan and provide knowledgeable counsel on what eventualities should be incorporated into an itinerary.
Time is an important factor when looking at the speed that situations change. Local lockdowns around the world happen rapidly, and a traveller may arrive in a destination finding the situation differs to what they anticipated. Arming crew coordinators and travellers with access to supportive expertise based in relevant global energy and marine locations is essential to keep crew travel going smoothly.
Duty of care policies, protocols and quarantine restrictions
Whilst airports and airlines around the world have enhanced cleaning, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, and social distancing measures in place, there is no one global consistent standard requirement, despite the efforts by major shipping institutions and the IMO’s detailed 12-stage crew change protocol. Organisations are developing their own minimum standards that apply to their people when travelling in order to keep them as safe as possible.
This means existing duty of care policies need to be updated with clear guidelines and new risk assessment measures. Ensuring that people have access to the recommended PPE ahead of travel, and importantly know how to use it safely, is another consideration.
During the peak periods of the pandemic in the western world, many organisations implemented their own quarantine and testing measures in order to help protect the wellbeing of their people, and those they come into contact with. In many countries the need for these quarantine measures has not gone away. The treatment of seafarers and energy professionals as critical key workers needs to be endorsed by all countries and addressed accordingly within these measures. Without this, shipping and energy organisations are faced with continuing to have to build in additional time and cost to crew rotation.
Cost of crew change
Air travel is a significant part of a crew change cost and has increased as a result of overall drop in demand and availability. Even when marine travel will be able to restore to historic volumes, cost is likely to remain high as capacity is not expected to return to pre COVID-19 levels any time soon. As social distancing and lockdowns persist, major airlines are not introducing new capacity and smaller airlines are consolidating further, in some cases even shutting down.
The combined effect of a potential shortage of shipping and energy-related airline routes, a shortage of frequencies and a shortage of adequate seat capacity are likely to negatively affect vessel budgets during the remainder of 2020 and into 2021. Past cost estimates are no longer accurate and re-budgeting is required to plan accurately for the months ahead.
As businesses begin to reboot their operations in a new normal, many organisations are outsourcing disciplines that they are not specialists in, and do not have the expertise to truly execute well. Travel is one such area, and a trend ATPI Marine & Energy is experiencing. Not only can this provide greater flexibility and, arguably lower risk, it also ensures that travel management is entrusted to professional consultants whose experience means they add sector intelligence and contacts which are invaluable in navigating significant challenges.
In the case of crew travel, a TMC who truly understands this space can provide expertise and learnings from throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to plan for other possible future scenarios. For the best results a TMC should be embedded in companies’ crew operations teams, functioning as a flexible crew travel logistics unit, rather than an external supplier.
Disruption is a new normal, but with the support of the right experts, it can be mitigated and managed in a way that reduces the impact on essential areas of operation.