Vital support sectors of the maritime world affected by Covid-19 are having to adopt new ways of operating in a world facing severe restrictions.

The term ‘key worker’ applies to a number of roles; as an example, hospital teams rely on logistics chains for supplies, from the product’s raw material at one end to the delivery person arriving at the hospital at the other end. Particularly in the UK, transport by sea will almost certainly be involved at some stage, the towing industry being key to maintaining the chain and adapting to the restrictive world they now operate in.

Many companies operate tug fleets globally and with countries responding to Covid-19 differently are adapting accordingly and BHP Marine as one example has described efforts to maintain its towing service at Port Hedland.

While many of its crews live locally in Western Australia, others commute from across the country and as the state’s borders were closing, quick thinking was required to relocate contractor groups’  crews and their families to Port Hedland to help reduce spread of the virus.

Port Hedland is a major iron ore export terminal serviced by over 20 modern high-spec shiphandling tugs and “Joe” one of the tug masters relocated with his wife and two children from Port Lincoln in South Australia to Port Hedland, a distance of around 3,000km, commenting: “It’s extremely reassuring to have my family with me.” Adding: “Given this is something we have never experienced before it is incredible how we have worked together and put in place new policies and procedures to overcome challenges in such a short time.”

Just as emergency services ashore are key workers, the marine salvage industry is key in ensuring the supply chain remains intact and the International Salvage Union (ISU) has outlined the Covid-19 situation with its members.

It reports members will be “working hard to maintain full service to their clients” including providing emergency response services. Ships and their crew’s previous destinations pose an additional challenge when assessing how best to respond to incidents where travel restrictions could affect response teams, but ISU points out that its members are spread strategically around the world with larger members having people and equipment in multiple locations and vessels already at sea.

By Peter Barker

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