Blog from ABS: COVID-19 - A Catalyst for Change in Shipping

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ABS Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher J. Wiernicki explains how the COVID-19 pandemic could change the shipping industry.

COVID-19 is a threat, disrupter and catalyst that is reshaping the industry’s commercial, security and safety trends around us.

It has put shipping in a ‘Time Out’ situation. The whole industry is learning and adapting to this new reality on the fly, devising new methods of working virtually and remotely in real-time. Keeping pace with operational changes and clients' needs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is rewriting the rules for all of us. For class, it is driving us towards predictive operations and accelerating the move away from calendar maintenance.

What is clear is that nothing is going to be the same again and we will all face a new normal. COVID-19 s is not going away and a new risk environment will endure. And even when there is a vaccine, we certainly cannot put the remote working or remote survey genie back in the bottle.

The pandemic has highlighted digital’s role in driving tomorrow’s safety outcomes. The uses of technology in response to COVID-19 contain powerful lessons on digital’s potential to drive safety improvement across all levels of an industrial operation, acting as an acid test on a comparatively micro-scale of a vessel to the macro-scale of a global shipping operation.

Digital technologies — from data analysis to smart manufacturing and distribution of equipment and supplies — have facilitated the global response to the pandemic in a rapid, efficient manner. This may be the first example of digital technologies having a massive impact on a global emergency response, and certainly indicates the vast potential for digital technologies to fundamentally change our industry and the ways in which business is conducted. We have seen an acceleration in terms of data driven and digital decision making, which was always the cornerstone of any strategy to meet 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation targets but is now business as usual for many thanks to adaptations spurred by the virus.

That is why ABS has expanded its remote survey options to the extent it is now the most comprehensive set of such services available anywhere, including, for the first time in the industry, the majority of annual class surveys. We are doubling down on our commitment to innovating with technology and digital services to respond to the challenges our clients and members face, and on assisting the industry in the new normal we will all face once the mitigation measures are eased.

At the same time, ABS has launched comprehensive guidance on sanitizing and decontaminating marine and offshore assets exposed to COVID-19. Our ABS Group Consulting subsidiary has also developed a pioneering risk-based framework to help organizations put together a proactive plan to restart operations with enhanced working practices that address the challenges of the business environment that awaits on the other side of the pandemic.

While understandably dominating public conversation, COVID-19 concerns should not obscure some of the important issues that the shipping industry needs to continue to address, such as market uncertainty and unpredictability, which has been exacerbated significantly in recent weeks, as well as the impact of new regulations and ever-changing technologies.

The industry is experiencing several major changes: the impact of regulations and alternate fuels on the carbon journey and the rate of change of technology. These respond to four industry challenges: low-carbon shipping; the speed and scope of digitalisation; the growing cyber threat and addressing safety risks introduced by the pace of change. The virus has simply accelerated all of these processes.

The digital revolution brings exciting possibilities for enhancing occupational safety, survey and condition monitoring, and is revolutionizing asset management overall. Balancing today and tomorrow, safety must be grounded in protection of life, property and the natural environment, while focusing on systems thinking, people, cyber security and predictive analysis because every facet of the industry is changing and evolving quickly.

The extent to which companies successfully manage this duality will be the determining factor in their performance in the years to come. This is why ABS will continue to invest in the foundations of our digital future and develop products and services to help the industry and our clients do likewise.

More Information

To find out more on the ABS Remote Survey Program and how ABS is addressing the many challenges COVID-19 brings please visit www.eagle.org.  

You can also contact your local ABS Business Development representative David Davenport-Jones, Director UK Business Development by emailing ABSLondon@eagle.org.