This year has been one like no other. As the world battled with the fallout from a global pandemic, shipping has rolled on with many tackling aspects of the business in ways they never thought possible — with the odd entertaining interlude.
Here are some new things shipping learned to do in 2020:
1. Get creative with crew changes
From a three-day road trip through India to a daring ship-to-ship transfer of officers off the coast, fleet managers scrambled to keep up with the ever-changing country and port rules on crew change as the pandemic spread out worldwide.
But as 2020 draws to a close, too many seafarers will see in the new year stuck onboard vessels months beyond when they were due to return home.
2. Conclude newbuilding deals online
At first, brokers said it was going to be impossible, particularly those final, round-the-table discussions on a vessel’s technical specifications that can take a week or more.
Then the business where discussions had already been underway before the pandemic hit began to trickle in.
By the end of the year, those same naysayers were sounding nonchalant about the deals they had done.
The verdict? Combing through documents electronically and going back and forth across time zones is more time-consuming, but it can be done.
3. Attend ship namings and deliveries virtually
The sponsors wore their hats and cut the ribbons indoors. Some toasted each other via webcams and toured vessels virtually, while one group even sang together to drone footage of their newbuilding out on sea trials.
It cut the carbon footprint for all those who would have flown miles to attend the naming ceremonies and no doubt proved less of a headache for shipbuilders.
But in one of the lowest years for newbuilding orders, maybe yard executives would have relished the opportunity for some face-to-face time with their customers.
“It just wasn’t the same. I miss all that,” said one virtual event attendee, who wanted the real thing.
4. Tune in to endless webinars
From those by consultants to conference organisers, lawyers to regulators, equipment designers to classification societies, every event went online — sometimes with improvements, often with a fascinating view into each other's homes.
TradeWinds might even be guilty of adding to the mix with a few carefully crafted webinars of its own.
How was it for you? Do you want more in 2021, or do you want to be back out there in the real world?
5. Sing along with Herbjorn Hansen
Just when life was getting a little rough for everyone, Norway's own Herbjorn Hansson or rather "Songar fra nyheitene" — "Songs from the news" — got us all dancing when the outspoken shipowner's views on the Cayman Islands were set to an earworm of a track on YouTube.
The clip has now racked up more than 440,000 hits. But feel free to give it one more play here:
6. Move legal hearings and arbitration online
More preparation is needed, and there are "camera issues", but shipping’s legal world made video hearings work as the lockdowns took hold.
In July, one leading London barrister gave TradeWinds an insight into how things were working out.
7. E-auction ships
In May, TradeWinds was there to record the twists and turns of the appropriately named handysize bulker Evolution as it came under the hammer by UK Admiralty Court-appointed shipbroker CW Kellock in one of the first online ship auctions.
It looks set not to be the last.
8. Shift annual general meetings online
As the Covid-19 virus mutates to something more infectious for 2021 and months of fresh lockdowns loom across Europe, will Swedish Club chairman Per Settergren be forced to eat his words when he said this year's digital annual general meeting was a one-off?
Or will the new vaccines allow a return to the old normal?
9. Conduct remote ship surveys and inspections
Whether for surveys or vetting purposes, remote surveys had to happen as the spread of Covid-19 made travel to vessels an almost impossible feat for surveyors and inspectors alike, and ships started to slide out of class or off energy major’s approval lists.
So have they worked?
For remote surveys, advocates such as classification societies say the pandemic has only accelerated what was already on offer.
It seems the jury is still out on remote vetting, which has only just got underway, with owners concerned that charterers might differentiate on whether an inspector has been onboard or not.
And then there are the wistful comments of surveyors and inspectors on social media, some of whom seem only too keen to be reacquainted with some real steel.