Workers who keep global supply chains moving are warning of a 'system collapse'

In an open letter Wednesday to heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other industry groups warned of a “global transport system collapse” if governments do not restore freedom of movement to transport workers and give them priority to receive vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization.

This is not news to those familiar with the industry but it’s notable that this is from CNN.

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Unfortunately, the general public will only pick their heads up from their phones when the price of common household goods go through the roof.


Here is the open letter:

29 September 2021
Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the maritime, road and aviation industries have called loudly and clearly on governments to ensure the free movement of transport workers and to end travel bans and other restrictions that have had an enormously detrimental impact on their wellbeing and safety. Transport workers keep the world running and are vital for the free movement of products, including vaccines and PPE, but have been continually failed by governments and taken for granted by their officials.

Our calls have been consistent and clear: freedom of movement for transport workers, for governments to use protocols that have been endorsed by international bodies for each sector and to prioritise transport workers for vaccinations as called for in the World Health Organization’s SAGE Roadmap for Prioritizing Uses of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Context of Limited Supply.

Heads of government have failed to listen, to end the blame-shifting within and between governments and take the decisive and coordinated action needed to resolve this crisis.

This is why IRU, the world road transport organisation, IATA, the International Air Transport Association, ICS, the International Chamber of Shipping, and ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, have come together to make an urgent plea to the world’s heads of government and the United Nations Agencies to remove restrictions hampering the free movement of transport workers, and guarantee and facilitate their free and safe movement.

Our collective industries account for more than $20 trillion of world trade annually, and represent 65 million global transport workers, and over 3.5 million road freight and airline companies, as well as more than 80% of the world merchant shipping fleet. Seafarers, air crew and drivers must be able to continue to do their jobs, and cross borders, to keep supply chains moving. We ask heads of government to urgently take the leadership that is required to bring an end to the fragmented travel rules and restrictions that have severely impacted the global supply chain and put at risk the health and wellbeing of our international transport workforce. We also need the same urgent leadership to increase global vaccine supply by all means at our disposal, in order to expedite the recovery of our industries.

We ask that our transport workers are given priority to receive WHO recognised vaccines and heads of government work together to create globally harmonised, digital, mutually recognised vaccination certificate and processes for demonstrating health credentials (including vaccination status and COVID-19 test results), which are paramount to ensure transport workers can cross international borders.

We also call on the WHO to take our message to health ministries. Despite early engagement at the outset of the pandemic and issuance of guidance, health and transport ministries have not utilised it, resulting in the situation we face today. We need the WHO and governments to work together to ensure this guidance is accepted and followed.

The impact of nearly two years’ worth of strain, placed particularly upon maritime and road transport workers, but also impacting air crews, is now being seen. Their continued mistreatment is adding pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain. We are witnessing unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods including electronics, food, fuel and medical supplies. Consumer demand is rising and the delays look set to worsen ahead of Christmas and continue into 2022.

We have all continued to keep global trade flowing throughout the pandemic, but it has taken a human toll. At the peak of the crew change crisis 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, with some seafarers working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts. Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel, restrictions, and vaccine restrictions/requirements. Additional and systemic stopping at road borders has meant truck drivers have been forced to wait, sometimes weeks, before being able to complete their journeys and return home.

It is of great concern that we are also seeing shortages of workers and expect more to leave our industries as a result of the poor treatment they have faced during the pandemic, putting the supply chain under greater threat.

In view of the vital role that transport workers have played during the pandemic and continue to play during the ongoing supply chain crisis, we request, as a matter of urgency, a meeting with WHO and the ILO at the highest level to identify solutions before global transport systems collapse. We also ask that WHO and the ILO raise this at the UN General Assembly and call on heads of government to take meaningful and swift action to resolve this crisis now.

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The system, if it is collapsing, may not be a bad thing.
Who knows? Maybe transport workers will be paid more, get better benefits etc?


Its frustrating that the only time the Maritime Industry gets publicity is when it has problems.
The average American almost never thinks about how all of their cheap chinese goods got over here.


I hope you’re right. If this supply chain boondoggle shines the light on the vulnerability of the international supply chain and draws attention to conditions that seafarers live with as side effect, I’ll be surprised. If it proves to be a turning point, I’ll be cheering. How much more warning signs do the politicians on the international stage need to get a clue. The entire planet was aware of the sideways event in the Suez via their iPhones and the plight of seafarers stranded on ships via the media countless times since but probably never considered it anything other than an a side show to what the Kardashian clan is up to.
Is the fragmentation, disparity in pay and diversity inherent in the international maritime community a road block to unification with enough weight to participate on the international stage? I don’t think the IMO would be keen to take on that responsibility.
Who in the world do you suppose will assemble and lead that convention of hopefuls ?
An AB or wiper supporting his family back in his third world country is powerless to challenge his employers by demanding changes when hundreds of hopefuls are standing in line behind him ready to sign up.


In the UK they made a change to the tax law that hit truckers so they left the industry as no longer worth it.
It also hit the guys from other EU countries so they went home.


tengineer, perhaps, though what is actually causing the collapse? There seems to be justification to question whether the collapse is intentional. Have you ever seen anything that even comes close to this level of disruption of global trade, and to the disruption of lives around the world?


I dont get he part where we are short yet more ships moving more crap than ever.
What are they moving?

Personally, I think it is a logistics and stevedoring issue. Intermodalism has finally met the point where the ships are too big for the ports that are servicing them.

You want to offload a 24,000 TEU ship with 12,000 container moves for that port? Best believe it is going to take a whole lot more time than a 10,000 TEU ship with 3,000 container moves for that given port.

Now couple that with the fact that the rest of world is offloading and loading ships at far more of a pace and efficiency than the stevedores in the US are doing and you have what we are experiencing right now. It extends to the logistics network supporting the port as well. Trucking, rail, it is not capable of moving the boxes fast enough. I am looking at it first hand daily and have been wondering when the whole farce was going to be unmasked. It finally has.

The port development should have kept pace with the designs of these mega ships. I’m not saying an effort hasn’t been made, but other countries have done it far faster and with better results.


When I was in the Midwest last month I saw containers on trains that were 40/45 foot but had extensions welded on to be 53’.
If vessels can adapt to sailing with 53’ containers for intermodal travel perhaps there would be less of a burden on ports.
IIRC the ship that Walmart has chartered is sailing with 53’ containers.

The logistics structure for trucking, rail, and to a large extent ports is controlled by corporations who must make a profit. They think in terms of quarterly profits and are not likely to make long term capital investments or hire more people as long as they reap the benefits of higher rates due to what may or may not be a short term bottleneck due to a pandemic upsetting the supply chain.


If anything the fact that LA LongBeach has 145 ships waiting at anchor shows to me the need for smaller container ships that do not need super ports to load or offload to.
The whole business plan was flawed at the beginning. Yes I understand that the quarterly reports have to look good.
Just think of all the ports not utilized which are closer to the end user. They are not choke points as today’s mega ports are and were unwittingly designed to be.
Talk about short sea shipping! This fiasco points up more than ever the need. Less congestion at rail yards, less dependency on long haul trucks.
Yes, more and smaller ships will raise cost but you only get what you pay for. You want cheap rather than consistent supply line, then you have it today. Wait your turn!
How does Walmart and the others chartering their own ships decrease the wait times at super ports??? The super port is the problem!
How is it we won WWII? More ships that could get into small ports, nearer the action and our building capacity was so great we could afford losing a third of them. How does that equate today? One we don’t have the ships and think if we lose some a whole fleet or a division is out of action due to the size of the ships we do have. Madness!


When I was calling at Terminal Island, Los Angeles the Maersk terminal was handling 12,000 TEU vessels and I never imagined that we were going so far above that size. These ships were doing a complete discharge load at the one berth. Doubling the size of ship and expecting things to run unchanged was never going to happen.
Hazarding a guess I would say that the deadweight of a 10,000 ton train would be half that, given that each wagon has to be built sufficiently robust enough to pull the one behind it.
Containerisation worked because contrary to normal way things work internationally, the world came to the party and standardised containers.
Modern container ships do have some bays suitable for 54 foot containers that have the same fittings to fit a 40 foot container stow. These are always on deck stows.

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This has nothing to do with utilizing smaller ports, avoiding choke points or anything like that. Shipping is run by bankers and all they see is this:

What makes sense to a mariner is invisible to a banker or stockbroker and backups give port managers an excuse to ask taxpayers for more money:


Here’s a novel idea. Have ship owners, shippers and consignees pool their money to improve port handling capabilities. They after all are the ultimate beneficiaries.

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What? Surely you aren’t suggesting an end to corporate welfare! Where will campaign contributions come from?


Not only shipping and US infrastructure is cause of supply chain problems:

Ching, ching :slight_smile: Lot of money being made !