How European maritime companies are impacted by the corona crisis

Many European maritime companies are being affected by the corona crisis. Measures taken by them range from working from home and closing offices, to cancelled sailings, job cuts and closed down production facilities. To give you an impression, we have created a small overview.

While it is difficult to predict just how much damage the coronavirus will cause within the European maritime industry, it is safe to say it will definitely wreak havoc, though in some sectors more than in others. From what we gather from a quick sweep, shipbuilding and shipping companies and ports seem to have the situation more or less under control, with activities currently mostly continuing. Most impacted so far are the cruise and ferry companies.

Shipbuilding

Shipbuilder Damen has production facilities all over the world, including four in China. These shipyards have had to close down following the Chinese Government’s measures to contain spread of the coronavirus. However, according to Rick van de Weg, spokesman of Damen Shipyards, those companies are now fully operational again. Operations in the Netherlands are up and running as well. Van de Weg: ‘So far, business-wise we have things under control and are dealing with things the best we can.’ The christening ceremony for the Kilstroom, a DP1 multi-purpose workboat for Van Wijngaarden Marine Services, has been cancelled, but the ship is expected to be delivered as planned.

Work continues as normal at De Hoop Shipyard, even though a number of people, including some from management, are at home sick (not necessarily the coronavirus). Workers with elevated body temperatures are sent home immediately. On Monday or Tuesday, the De Hoop built expedition cruise ship Silver Origin will arrive in Schiedam for final outfitting. The water levels have subsided to such an extent (with respect to the bridges that have to be passed) that transport from De Hoop to Schiedam is now possible.

Royal IHC does not want to discuss its corona measures with the media. According to a spokesperson, ‘The company reviews the measures on a daily basis and adjusts them if necessary.’

As the outbreak in Italy has been more severe so far, cruise ship builder Fincantieri has had to suspend its production activities at the Italian sites from March 16 to March 29.

Offshore & dredging contractors & shipping companies

Van Oord says in a statement it ‘has decided to have all employees working at the (project) offices in the Netherlands work from home for the remainder of March. Despite the challenges, we are able to keep our communication lines open to our clients, business partners and suppliers, mostly via e-mail and telephone.’ Its fleet operations are for now continuing as planned, for example with Van Oord’s new dredger Vox Amalia starting coast reinforcement works at Den Helder.

Heerema Marine Contractors has closed its headquarters in Leiden with office staff working from home. No consequences for the fleet and their crews were reported other than that the company follows the hygiene measures as issued by the Dutch Government.

Allseas‘ spokesman Jeroen Hagelstein said: ‘The safety of our people, both in the offices and on board the ships, is the most important thing. That is why we also follow the guidelines and advice of the Dutch government and have taken various preventive measures ourselves. However, due to the creativity and determination of our people, we are still able, given the circumstances, to continue the work on and from our ships and at the various shipyards and production facilities worldwide.’

Royal Wagenborg‘s offices are open but employees work from home as much as possible. Participation in meetings and events is cancelled and until April 12, the company will not receive external visits to the offices, except mail delivery and goods suppliers.

Following the Dutch measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Jumbo Shipping has reported its ships have received the necessary instructions and, for now, continue their schedule. The company’s offices have been closed until further notice, with staff working from home.

Trade organisation

The Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT) staff is working from home for the time being, but remains operational. Planned trade activities have been cancelled up to the end of June.

Ferry operations

DFDS has had to discontinue the Oslo-Copenhagen service until at least 1 April. 600 employees have been sent home who are paid through an arrangement similar to working time. Job cuts cannot be ruled out. On 19 March, the company announced the Amsterdam-Newcastle ferry route will temporarily be suspended as well. Latest sailings will be on 21 March from Amsterdam and 22 March from Newcastle. DFDS is in consultation with crews on board and staff ashore about the temporary effects on employment. This suspension will last until 13 April as a minimum.

Viking Line had to suspend its Helsinki-Stockholm route as of 18 March following the instructions of Finnish authorities, who have closed the country’s borders. Other routes were already suspended or altered: Mariehamn-Kapellskär from March 17 to April 13 (suspended); Helsinki-Tallinn March 17–31 (reduced number of departures); Mariehamn-Stockholm March 16 to April 16 (suspended).

950 planned job redundancies in Sweden were announced by Stena Line. This measure is in response to the coronavirus affecting passenger operations. The ferry company cannot rule out more jobs will be cut in the near future. Sailings between the Netherlands and England continue as planned for now.

From Saturday 21 March, Rederij Doeksen will reduce its sailings to and from the Dutch Wadden Islands of Vlieland and Terschelling to two return sailings per day. The demand for transport to and from the islands has decreased by approximately 85 per cent (and dropping). This has led to acute liquidity problems and the company has appealed for support from the national government to be able to maintain the greatly slimmed-down timetable. By sailing a limited basic timetable, the important connection with the two Wadden Islands can at least still be guaranteed for necessary passenger traffic and the supply of (fresh) goods.

Wagenborg Passenger Services has limited the capacity of its ferries to the Dutch Wadden Islands Ameland and Schiermonnikoog to one third of the normal capacity. This is to allow passengers to keep to the 1.5 metres distance advised by the Dutch Government.

Cruise shipping

All of Holland America Line’s cruise ships that are currently still sailing, will finish their cruises and will subsequently be docked for at least thirty days. The crew will remain on board for now. Office staff will see their working hours reduced and wages supplemented by government benefits.

Although not a European company, the second largest cruise company in the world, Princess Cruises, does operate in Europe. It has cancelled all sailings of its eighteen cruise ships until 11 May due to the coronavirus outbreak. Current voyages underway and that extended beyond 17 March will be ended at the most convenient location for guests.

Viking will temporarily suspend all its river and ocean cruise operations until May 1, 2020.

Container shipping

Maersk says operations are still running smoothly, but has extended crew changes to 14 April to prevent the virus from getting on board one of the ships. It is also to prevent seafarers from getting stranded as ever more countries impose lockdowns for international transport. Vincent Clerc, CEO of Ocean and Logistics at Maersk: ‘Our operations are running smoothly across the globe despite COVID-19; our seafarers who transport your goods have stepped up and extended their time at sea, our office teams are all working remotely on laptops and are available via the usual phone numbers, web and mobile channels, ensuring both social distancing and business continuity. We have learnt from our Chinese colleagues who have kept the business running throughout the most severe of times and are pleased to share that all our operations are still in place to serve you.’

CMA CGM has said on its website European personnel will work from home and that container shipping will continue. ShippingWatch reported, however, that the corona virus will probably get in the way of the company’s attempts to raise liquidity and lower its debts.

Ports

The Dutch Government has marked people active in the processing of shipping as vital. This means these people retain the right to daycare for their children to allow them to continue working as much as possible. Most ports have indicated they will try to continue operations to the best of their abilities.

The Port of Amsterdam has said port operations will continue as much as possible, but the port has, however, been closed to cruise ships.

Despite the far-reaching social consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, the Port of Rotterdam remains operational. Goods transshipment and production will continue unabated, says the Port Authority on its website. The Harbour Master’s Division ensures safety and order on the water 24/7. The Port of Rotterdam Authority closely follows the advice of national authorities in the field of health and safety and has taken measures to guarantee the continuity of business operations.

The Port of Moerdijk Authority said in a statement it is doing everything in its power to keep their services at a maximum level, despite the corona crisis.

North Sea Port says it is committed, where possible, to continue the operational activities in the port. Personnel is working from home when possible. The Harbour Master’s Offices remain within reach, but in limited numbers. Sea going vessels have to fill in the Maritime Declaration of Health 24 hours before entering the port. (River) Cruise passengers in North Sea Port Ghent are to remain on board.

Also remaining operational is the Port of Hamburg. On its website, the Port Authority states: ‘The Port of Hamburg, and especially the Hamburg Port Authority, accepts its responsibility and makes it a top priority for our port to remain fully operational in the best interest of the population.’

In a statement, the Port of Antwerp says ‘the entire port is and will remain operational during this difficult period. Under the terms of the Ministerial Decree concerning measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus, the port is designated as “essential national infrastructure.” As such, logistics chains must remain assured and the nation kept supplied.’

Picture by Dennis Rosenfeldt.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.