The outbreak of the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) caused a nosedive in virtually every sector especially Maritime sector in Nigeria. It created a shift from working physically to working at home virtually, utilizing ICTs. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, many industries operated physically and even some were not harnessing the online platform for the day-to-day running of their businesses. So, the quick transition from physical to digital/online seemed novel to them.
The Maritime sector in Nigeria was immensely affected by the disease outbreak, many port operators, freight forwarders, truck drivers, helmsmen, sailors were made to stay at home in order to curtail the spread of the virus. In fact, port operations nationwide were shutdown as the novel virus put people in a frantic situation. This pandemic has launched a major brunt for the maritime industry in Nigeria and worldwide as well.
Here are some of the effects of COVID-19 on the shipping industry in Nigeria;
1) A downturn in importation and exportation: There was massive decline in importation and exportation due to the pandemic as majority of the stakeholders in charge were at home self-isolating or quarantining and this affected the level of income and the economy.
2) Economic Recession: Port closures, a shutdown of port operations across the country, the ban on entry and exit of vessels, to contain the spread of the virus, had an adverse effect on the economy as monies accrued from port operations were no longer forthcoming.
3) Health Impact: The pandemic affected the health of port players, crew members, stakeholders and others in the sector. With some being diagnosed of the disease, many others had to quarantine and stay home to prevent the spread of the virus.
4) Decrease in the demand for cargoes: There has been a decrease in importation and exportation due to the curtailing of the spread of the novel virus. There are now stifled regulations for the transportation of freights and this has led to a decline in the demand of certain goods. There’s also been a delay in the transportation of goods due to the lengthy process of clearance which has negatively affected import and export in the country.
5) Lay time settlement disputes: Ship owners usually grant the vessels to charters for a definite time period for fixed amount of money. When there is an overriding of such time frame, it results in additional costs that have to be paid for surpassing the set time period. COVID-19 has led to huge difficulties on the settlement of such time period as the vessels are prohibited from entering certain ports forcing them to be on territorial waters for an extended period of time forcing them to be a party to pay additional costs that are under the light of dispute. Such costs are not being paid due to force maneuver, and this results in losses to parties.
6) Financial crises: A lot of small companies and stakeholders involved in the shipping industry are in deep financial crises as a result of less demand and their inability to handle the finances of the company during and after the outbreak of COVID-19. This has had a negative effect on small businesses and has further led to many folding up.
7) Increased Tension: COVID-19 was novel to the entire world when it broke out, and so there was heightened tension everywhere, the maritime sector inclusive. Most people were more interested in staying safe than making money.
Mitigating these Impacts
1) An investment in ICTs and other modern technologies: The world is faster tilting towards a digital platform. Even Marshall McLuhan that said the “world is a global village” in 1964 probably did not imagine the massive impacts the Internet and other digital technologies can have on the world today. Therefore, the government of the day need to heavily invest in ICTs and its utilization in day-to-day port operations.
Digital technologies such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) can be utilized for the smooth running of port operations.
EDI helps in cutting freight waiting times, reduces error through the generation of information automatically, decreases ship stopover times, integrates the entire intermodal operation.
2) Training and Re-training: The introduction of a new technology comes the technical know-how and this can be achieved through the training and retraining of personnel.
3) More testing and the introduction of the vaccine: Workers health and safety should be paramount. So, government need to carry out more COVID-19 testing and also try to make the vaccine available to port operators and other workers in the maritime sector.
4) Simplifying the cargo clearance process: The cargo clearance process needs to be simplified and made less stressful in order to encourage the importation and exportation of more goods that were before now slowed down due to the cumbersome clearance process that resulted from the outbreak of COVID-19.
5) Introduction of the Intermodal Transportation System in the Maritime sector in Nigeria: An introduction of the intermodal transportation system will help reduce traffic congestion and the gathering of huge number of people that can pose a risk through further spreading the virus