The global maritime transport sector is feeling the full force of the coronavirus pandemic's lockdown measures, risking shortages of essential goods being delivered despite the start of China's recovery.
"In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and foodstuffs, will be central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic," Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, has said in a video message posted on its website.
But he noted that "transport hubs are being affected. Ports are being closed and ships denied entry".
For ports still open to traffic, "the concern is on... restricting the entry of ships", Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told AFP.
In a recent joint letter addressed to the United Nations and World Health Organization, the global maritime industry wrote that "in this time of global crisis, it is more important than ever to keep supply chains open and maritime trade and transport moving", noting that 90 percent of global trade is via commercial shipping.
"In view of their vital role during the global pandemic, we suggest that professional seafarers, regardless of nationality, should be treated as any other international 'key workers', such as airline crew and medical personnel," the letter added.
Shipping companies worldwide have joined airlines in only transporting goods, with potential passengers in lockdown.
DFDS, a company strongly present in the North Sea, and cross-Channel Brittany Ferries are two such operators who recently made the switch to shipping only supplies.
But like was the case in China, the shipping of goods into and out of other countries could become tougher as the deadly COVID-19 spreads wider.
China however is on a path to recovery.
"After a six-week slowdown, export activity is on way to returning to normal, with a rebound in volumes as stocks are replenished," a spokeswoman for French shipowner CMA-CGM told AFP.
"Since the start of March, volumes of goods departing Asia have increased by 50 percent per week and a full recovery is expected by the end of the month."
But from Italy to India to the United States, governments have rolled out tougher measures to halt the rapid spread of coronavirus as global cases have surged past 300,000 and Asia braces for a possible second wave of infections.
Italy on Friday closed its ports to foreign cruise ships and suspended the operation of its own services in response to the pandemic.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)