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Seatrade discusses resilience in the supply chain and well-being of seafarers
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 17 - 12 - 2020

Seatrade Maritime Middle East Virtual 2020 (SMMEV), the region's leading event in the shipping industry, concluded Wednesday, with two sessions featuring a panel of experts from the maritime industry in the Middle East region. The three-day event provided an ideal platform for knowledge sharing and networking, uniting professionals from the industry globally.
Day three of the event featured sessions on building a resilient supply chain and adapting to the "new normal", while also tackling the fundamental issue of the physical and mental wellbeing of seafarers. Panelists spoke about the Middle East maritime cluster's contribution to support the global supply chain and the role of technology in enabling uninterrupted trade flow.
Optimization of operations
The first session that highlighted the impact of the pandemic and the acceleration of digitalization, was opened with a keynote speech by Dr. Noura Al Dhaheri, head of the Digital Cluster, Abu Dhabi Ports and CEO, Maqta Gateway.
Commenting on how the unexpected turn of events this year prompted the industry to embrace digitalization, she said, "2020 has demonstrated that what is required by companies to endure is a strong business model backed by robust digital infrastructure and processes that can react swiftly to evolving circumstances.
"The focus on reducing complexity, risk and uncertainty is a must. When we consider the World Economic Forum estimates that up to 20 per cent of the $9 trillion worth of goods shipped annually is spent on administration alone, digital can unlock a new era by changing and modernizing how we do businesses."
Despite the challenges that cropped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ports in the region put up a brave front, tackling the crisis head-on, utilizing the power of digitalization. Technologically-advanced solutions were deployed to keep the supply chain going while also ensuring that the entire eco-system of ports isn't impacted.
Organizations discovered ways to adapt to the "new normal", enhancing their digital infrastructure to meet the demands of the fast-evolving market. Solutions like automation, RPA, documents automation, VR, remote surveys and monitoring helped the industry navigate the challenges seamlessly.
Robert Sutton, head of Abu Dhabi Ports' Logistics Cluster, Abu Dhabi Ports (ADP) asserted, "2020 is, without doubt, a year of surprises, challenges and opportunities. We believe that the crisis [COVID-19 pandemic] is a trigger for innovation and certainly it has proven to be the case for ADP."
Edward Tah, CEO, Saudi Global Ports said, "The pandemic has had a deep and broad-based impact on the economy over a long period. The positive outcome from the pandemic is the adoption of digital activities."
Tah also highlighted that despite the advancement in technology across various platforms, stakeholders still need to be assured about network security and reliable communications.
The seafarer crisis
One of the most impacted groups of maritime professionals during the pandemic were undoubtedly the seafarers. Seafarers around the world faced unprecedented challenges including delayed crew changes, strenuous work hours, at times even being stranded at sea for days. In June, this year the number of stranded seafarers was estimated to be 150,000. By September, it rose to 400,000.
Toby Brooks, deputy director, Isle of Man Ship Registry, explained, "We've experienced first-hand the crew repatriation crisis, our attempt to review each case and support the needs of our seafarers have in some cases revealed a common truth. I think we've noticed in many ports there's a clear disconnect between the maritime authorities and the border control authorities within the same country."
Brooks added, "Port State Control efforts to enforce contract lengths to the letter of the MLC are not always in tune with the border controls that have been put in place and often disregard the travel plans the shipowner or manager has put in place so well planned crew change arrangements have been thrown into disarray and even suffered detentions as a result."
Matt Dunlop, group director HSEQ and Technical, V. Group, said, "As an industry, we need to make sure with retention in mind, we do everything we can with hearts and minds to make sure we support our seafarers throughout this process in order to retain them and bring them back when they are rested and ready to go."
Panelists also spoke about the skills seafarers must be equipped with to work in the post-COVID era, especially due to the rapid increase in automation of ship systems, equipment and operations. Raal Harris, group creative director, Ocean Technologies, stated that a combination of skills is required for a modern seafarer, including being digitally savvy, and excellent communication and leadership skills.
Aiding valuable discussions
Over the course of three days, SMMEV 2020 has touched upon pressing concerns in the industry. Discussions included topics ranging from recovery strategies to tackle the COVID-19, the market outlook of the energy business, clean energy in shipping, environment and people sustainability, adoption of digitalization and technologically-advanced solutions and more.
Chris Hayman, chairman, Seatrade said, "With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic little did we know that our event would leave an indelible mark on the industry and stir up conversations that are the need of the hour.
"We are thrilled beyond measure that despite the disruption in the market, we could host the event and witnessed significant participation not only from leaders in the industry regionally and globally, but also from professionals. Our team has worked ceaselessly to make this event a great success by fully utilizing the power of technology and providing an immersive digital experience."
Attendees can access exclusive on-demand content for a series of podcasts from industry leaders until Dec. 31, 2020. Experts will talk about subjects like the evolution of classification, digital standardization, equality in the maritime industry, innovation and growth in the KSA logistics market and more.
The in-person event of Seatrade Maritime Middle East is expected to take place in 2021 at the Expo 2020 site. The hybrid event will allow for virtual interactions, allowing global businesses to work in the Middle East. — SG


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