Despite one of the the world's largest shipping lines, Maersk, recently suspending all crew changes aboard its container vessels for up to one month in order to shield crew and operations from the coronavirus and keep them “as normal as possible,” this weekend witnessed the first ever confirmed cases aboard a container ship.
In the past days reports have emerged that an entire crew from the Danish-flagged ship Gjertrud Maers have been tested, with some evacuated and hospitalized in Ningbo, China. A Maersk company spokesman later said in a press statement that “a number of our seafarers” on the ship were suspected for the virus.
“As per our established protocols, the seafarers were isolated on the vessel when symptoms appeared and we are providing medical treatment based on input from our medical advisers,” the Maersk statement said.
“The vessel was awaiting phasing into our network and currently idle at the quayside in Ningbo, China,” it added. “Extra precaution measures will be taken for crew replacement and sanitations will be implemented.”
Subsequent reports on Monday via state-run China News Service (CNS) indicate at least five of the crew members have tested positive for Covid-19, after a total of 22 foreign crew members were put in isolation aboard the ship while awaiting testing.
Initially seven crew members were reported as having "abnormal physical condition" over a week ago. Maersk did not immediately confirm the crew tested positive, however.
CEO of Maersk Ocean and Logistics, Vincent Clerc, late last week updated global customers and partners as to how the pandemic will impact shipping volume. He confirmed in a statement that necessary drastic actions taken by governments and companies to contain the spread of the virus will result in an economic slowdown. He added that recent interaction and conversations with customers “confirm our expectation of lower volume demand in the coming weeks.”
Multiple sailors on a @Maersk container ship tested positive for #coronavirus at port of Ningbo-Zhoushan, the busiest port in China, raising fears that #COVID19 may ultimately cripple global seaborne #trade: Chinese media reported. pic.twitter.com/hEJB4kX3aP— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 28, 2020
Clerc said further, “We are actively preparing our network to match a reduced demand level. We believe that it is our responsibility to rightsize in order to protect our cost position, both to be able to weather these storms but importantly also to ensure that you have a partner who cares for the integrity of your supply chain as we look to lifting the world out of this crisis.”
Last month the company said it was bracing itself for coronavirus to impact its 2020 earnings hard:
Maersk said it expects earnings of around $5.5 billion this year, which is about 5% below what analysts had been predicting.
...Maersk, the world's largest container shipping company, has warned of a "very weak" start to the year as the coronavirus keeps factories shuttered in China and dents demand for the transport of goods.
The Danish ship operator said Thursday [Feb.20] that it has canceled more than 50 trips to and from Asia since the Lunar New Year holiday was extended because of the outbreak. Shipping rates are expected to decrease as demand slips, the company said in an earnings report.
The company's forecast for shipping volume growth of less than 1% is "pretty downbeat," giving it some breathing space if the impact of the coronavirus is worse than expected, said Michael Field, an analyst at Morningstar...
"We estimate factories in China are operating at 50% to 60% of capacity," CEO Søren Skou said on an earnings call.
Already countries in the West, often over-reliant on manufacturing in East Asia, are feeling the crunch of limited supplies of shipped goods as port activity dries up on significantly lower volumes. This is especially the case when it comes to vital medical supplies, including items as simple as protective medical gear like gowns, masks, and gloves.